The St Jude Classic is one of the traditional tournaments on the PGA Tour that is played on the same course every year. It’s the final regular tournament before the second major championship of the season, the US Open. Phil Mickelson is the blue eyed boy of golf in the States but he has never won his national championship. Mickelson has finished second six times in the US Open but it is still the only major he has never won so must do so to complete the career Grand Slam.
Mickelson has decided to prepare for his biggest week of the season by competing at TPC Southwind which has staged this event since 1989. Next year the tournament becomes a golf world championship event and will move from June to August. This year it is still the last port of call before the US Open. The 2016 champion of the major is playing this week but Dustin Johnson is not in the best form. Brooks Keopka won the US Open last year but his form has also dipped. However, he got his season back on track by finishing second in the Memorial tournament two weeks ago.
The Southwind course has a par of 70 and it is similar in some respects to a typical US Open course. It puts a premium on accuracy over distance and par is a good score on most holes. Mickelson is honing his game in the competitive arena as he strives to win that elusive major which would give him the set. Only five players in the history of the sport have won all four majors as least once. Rory McIlroy needs the Masters to join the group and Jordan Spieth is only missing the US PGA Championship. No other modern player is missing just one major to complete the set.
Tiger Woods is the latest of the quintet to achieve a full house of majors and Jack Nicklaus won the lot before him. The pressure of winning a fourth different major championship is intense and that is why it’s so rare. Woods and Nicklaus have taken the concept to a new level as they have won each major at least three times. Mickelson will never reach that tally but he has won the Masters Tournament three times and one Open and PGA Championship. He will be looking for some form this week but winning the tournament is not a priority.
TPC Southwind is a tough course in its own right but the set-up is akin to a US Open venue which is possibly why Johnson and Mickelson are playing this week. Finding fairways is not as important as hitting the greens in regulation. The greens are average in speed but smaller than average so finding them in the correct number of strokes is paramount for good scoring. The ball strikers have an advantage and proximity to the hole is possibly the most significant attribute. The primary rough is not as penal as in the past so there is no great penalty for missing fairways.
The best players now focus their seasons around the majors. Mickelson would probably swap 100 St Jude Classics for that elusive US Open so he won’t be concerned if he doesn’t get in the mix. Mickelson wants a solid week of good ball-striking and a decent tournament on the greens so he takes some form and confidence into the US Open. In the last five years Mickelson has made five cuts and recorded three top three finishes so this is a tournament and week he likes. The course suits Henrik Stenson’ game as he leads the tour for greens in regulation so he would be a good pick to win the tournament which precedes the US Open.