Phil Mickelson's experience of links golf as a professional began only a few miles up the road from here at North Berwick, the course where the then 22-year-old tried to qualify for the 1992 Open.
Even though his bid was doomed to fail, it set the left-hander on a journey which ended only on Sunday when the four-times major winner finally won a tournament in Britain.
Mickelson, the 1990 US Amateur champion and a member of the 1991 Walker Cup-winning side at Portmarnock, had, on his own admission, a rude awakening when playing the front nine of his opening round into a headwind and despite rallying well with a second-round 68, a first-day total of 80 meant he missed out on a coveted Open slot at Muirfield and he went home only wiser for the experience.
The name of Mickelson, who had completed four rounds as an amateur at the 1991 Open, has been missing from only one Open since 1994 – in 2009 when his wife and mother were ill – although the Claret Jug has yet to accompany him back to the US. Yet for all that, the fun-loving American sees no reason why his 20th appearance in the oldest of the majors will not see him repeat the feats of Darren Clarke, to whom he finished second in 2011, and Ernie Els, by becoming the third forty-something in a row to win it.
The Scottish Open title at Castle Stuart last week finally proved he could get the job done on a links and, although Mickelson admits it is more difficult to win in back-to-back weeks, having the family with him – just back from a whistle-stop three days in Barcelona – has helped and he feels the layout at Muirfield gives him every chance of winning successively for the fifth time.
"I would say that Muirfield and Troon would offer me the two best chances [of winning an Open] because of the way the holes move," says Mickelson. "It's very comfortable for me off some of the tees, getting the ball in play, as well as around the greens. I like it here a lot."
He was not always so sanguine when it came to talking up his Open prospects – "My relationship with links is hate-love; I used to hate it and now I love it" – and using a driver will not be an option for him this time, as was the case at last month's US Open, where he finished second for the sixth time, as the hard, dry Scottish course will permit him to get the ball more or less where he wants it with a three wood.
"I feel the 64-degree wedge on this firm ground can save me some shots and I just don't see how a driver is going to help me in any areas," Mickelson says. "Distance on any tee shot is not even in my mind. It's avoiding bunkers, avoiding rough, getting the ball in the fairway. And I can do it a lot easier with clubs other than a driver."
"I've started to putt as well as I ever have," he adds. "I putted great last week and more than that, I've been putting well for months. "I feel like I've really keyed in on something. You've seen me try the belly putter and different grips and finally I believe I have kind of found the secret to my own putting. Every single day now for the last year it's been the same thing.I'm not going to discuss it. I don't really want to share it."
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