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After six U.S. Open 2nd-place finishes, Phil Mickelson longs for first

Phil Mickelson speaks during a press conference after

Phil Mickelson speaks during a press conference after a practice round before the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club on June 15, 2016 in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. Credit: Getty Images / Sam Greenwood

OAKMONT, Pa. — Phil Mickelson turns 46 on Thursday, and he still is like a student who is a few credits short of his diploma. Then again, he avoided having to stay after school.

Most of all, Phil is still Phil. Neither the $1 million he had to pay the government last month following an insider trading investigation nor his lack of a U.S. Open title have changed that. Since pulling into Oakmont Monday for the championship that starts Thursday, he has traveled to California and back for his daughter Sophia’s eighth-grade graduation. It has been an eventful week in an eventful life.

“I think any parent would, if they had a chance to, be at their child’s eighth-grade graduation. I think it’s a big milestone as they head into high school,” he said during a news conference, after having returned by his private jet late Tuesday night. “At 46 years old now, those are the differences I have, where a lot of the young guys in their 20s don’t have to think about that yet.”

Mickelson has had a lot to think about lately, notably having been named in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation of his friend Billy Walters. The SEC’s report last month said that the golfer owed Walters money from gambling debts and benefited from the friend’s insider trading tip. Mickelson was not charged, but was required to repay the money he gained from the tip, plus interest.

“Well, as I’ve said in the past, I’ve got to be more careful in my associations going forward and so forth. I think after a multiple-year investigation which led to nothing, no charges or anything, I think that kind of says enough for me,” he said.

He was asked if he had been contacted by the PGA Tour about potential discipline, he said, “Actually, I’m not going to comment on that. Good question, but I’m not going to go there.” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said at the Memorial Tournament that he had not called Mickelson and that “I have no comment about anything else at this point in time.”

Mickelson was much more expansive about the heartbreak of six second-place finishes—some of them excruciating — at the U.S. Open, the only major he has failed to win. “Well, I could BS you and tell you I don’t think about it,” he said. “No, I think about it all the time. This is the tournament I want to win most to complete the four majors.”

Of his 25 tries at the national championship, he said the finish that sticks with him the most is 2006 at Winged Foot, when he sailed his tee shot on No. 18 way left, failed to hit his 3-iron second shot far enough right and wound up saying, “I am such an idiot.”

But he added that his greatest regret is from 2013 at Merion (days after he traveled to and from daughter Amanda’s eighth-grade graduation), when he let a Sunday back-nine lead slip away to Justin Rose.

“My career is built on failure,” Mickelson said, “and that has been a motivator for me because I think how you handle failure is a huge element to becoming successful.”

Part of being Phil is staying optimistic that the next one will be different, regardless of the scar tissue. “Can’t dwell on the past,” he said. “I’m looking forward to this week.”

New York Sports