MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Phil Mickelson is playing the week before the U.S. Open to make sure his game is as sharp as possible, particularly after not playing very well at the Masters after taking off before that major.
“I know that for me to be sharp mentally, especially into a tournament where the penalty for missing is so great like the U.S. Open, it’s important that I’m sharp and I’m ready to play,” Mickelson said Wednesday after finishing a practice round.
He’s got plenty of company at the St. Jude Classic.
The TPC Southwind course plays at a par-70 over 7,239 yards and features small greens that don’t hold shots easily, narrow fairways and enough rough to provide a good test before golfers head to Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania. That’s why Brandt Snedeker and Boo Weekley are here, giving this tournament a field featuring five of the top 10 money leaders.
Dustin Johnson is back trying to defend his title. Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old from China, also is here on a sponsor’s exemption along with John Daly.
“This is a great golf course,” Mickelson said. “The greens are small, they’re difficult to get the ball stopped, and there are a lot of cool little shots around the greens. So the precision of the iron shot into the green as well as the importance of hitting fairways here is a similar style of golf that will happen at Merion next week.”
This will be Mickelson’s third appearance here. While no one has won on the PGA Tour the week before and gone onto win the U.S. Open, Mickelson played the week before winning each of his four majors. He even won the BellSouth Classic in 2006 before winning his second Masters Tournament.
“I like playing the week before,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson tied for 16th in Houston then took off the week before the Masters this year. He wound up tied for 54th with his best score of 71 coming in the first round. Since then, he has played only twice, finishing third in Charlotte at the beginning of May and then missing the cut the next week at The Players Championship at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
So visiting Memphis was a must to avoid going four consecutive weeks without a competitive round before heading to the U.S. Open.
Mickelson last played here in 2009 when he wound up tied for 59th, but he said he remembers how much he likes the course and the challenge offered.
“I love the small greens,” Mickelson said. “You really have to be precise with your shot making into the green with your irons to get the ball close to get it stopped. I think that there again it allows the player that is playing well a chance to make birdies and a guy who is not to make bogeys. So you separate the guys that are playing well.”
To Snedeker and Weekley, the TPC Southwind is like a home course.
Snedeker lives in Nashville, a three-hour drive away, and has played here repeatedly over the years. As the defending FedEx Cup champ, this event is even more special with FedEx the event sponsor. He already has a win this year at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February and has six Top 10s in the eight cuts he’s made this year putting him third on the money list.
“I love being here, it’s been good to me and I feel like the course is in great shape,” Snedeker said. “I feel like I have a good chance of playing well this week, and my golf game, even though it didn’t look great last week, it feels like it’s playing well right now. And I’m excited with what this week can hold, especially considering my past success here.”
Weekley will have plenty of family from his home in Milton, Fla., along with Mississippi and Alabama getting the rare chance to watch him compete in person. He’s back on tour after taking a week off following his win at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, in an area where it’s hot with Bermuda greens.
“I’m excited to be able to go back to the Open and play again,” Weekley said. “I feel like my game’s close. Taking a week off and not practicing, just spending time with my kids and stuff. It takes me about another week to get it back together again. That’s why I was ready to play this week and get it all ready.”
Johnson is back in Memphis after he won here a year ago in his first time playing this event. He extended the drought of tour winners the week before not winning the U.S. Open when he missed the cut the next week. But he said that was more an issue of the course not setting up for him.
He’s back with the same mindset he has every week, especially in a year he started off with his seventh career win.
“I’ll take a win every week before a major the rest of my life,” Johnson said.
Notes: Paul Goydos is making his return to the tour here. The two-time winner had surgery on his left wrist and has not played since the Northern Trust Open at Riviera last year. ... Snedeker is one of four players with six Top 10 finishes this year. ... Billy Horschel, currently fourth among this year’s money leaders, made his professional debut at this event in 2009 on a sponsor’s exemption.