PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The familiar line about aging in golf is that the ball doesn’t know how old you are. Your body does, certainly. And as in every sport, the ultimate winner eventually proves to be Father Time.
Phil Mickelson turned 49 Sunday, and if the surroundings at Pebble Beach couldn’t have been more perfect, the circumstances were less so.
As he played the U.S. Open at the same place he began as a pro more than a quarter- century ago, fans were only too eager to greet him and sing “Happy Birthday.”
“It’s pretty cool,” Mickelson said. “The people here have been so nice to me, and I’m very thankful.”
His game was less satisfying. He shot a 1-over-par 72 in the final round for a 4-over 288 total.
That Mickelson didn’t come close to winning the major he lacks to become the fifth man in history to take all four of the major golf championships did not become part of the conversation. That subject had been worked over numerous times since he won the 2013 British Open, adding that to three Masters and one PGA Championship.
Rather, he reminded everyone how difficult the game can be, and that every tournament has more disappointment than success.
“Dealing with losing in this game is a huge thing,” said Mickelson, who with 44 PGA Tour wins has had to deal with it less than most pro golfers.
“Because even the best — the greatest winners — win only a small percentage of the time,” he said. “But I have had so many special moments here at Pebble Beach that I can’t help but play here and be thankful and appreciative for all the gifts that I’ve been given. This was my first event as a pro, 1992, and even though I didn’t play my best, it is an eternal place.”
Mickelson has finished as a runner-up in the U.S. Open six times. Maybe the most frustrating of those was in 2006 at Winged Foot. Leading after 71 holes, he botched the 72nd, calling himself “such an idiot.” Geoff Ogilvy was the winner.
He was not as self-critical after this U.S. Open and indicated the quest will not be abandoned.
“I don’t know what else to say,” Mickelson said. “It’s not like I’m going to stop trying. I enjoy the challenge. But I thought this was a really good chance for me.”
That’s because of his record on this course, especially at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He has won it five times, including this past February, his last win as a touring pro.
But conditions are different for a U.S. Open, namely narrower fairways and slicker greens.
“I didn’t putt my best,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t chip my best. My short game is not what it has been this year.”
Next is the British Open at Portrush in Northern Ireland beginning July 18.
“I played Portrush one time with my dad,” he said. “It was a special, fun golf course. It’s a beautiful place.”