Phil Mickelson accepts special exemption to play in U.S. Open

·3-min read

Phil Mickelson is back in the U.S. Open, and all is right with the world.

The USGA granted Mickelson, 50, a special exemption into this year's tournament, scheduled for next month at Torrey Pines. Mickelson has played in 29 U.S. Opens and finished second six times, but never won. It remains the last major necessary for him to finish off a career Grand Slam. 

"Winning the U.S. Open has been a lifelong and elusive dream, and I've come close so many times," Mickelson said in a statement. "You can't win if you don't play. I'm honored and appreciative of the USGA for the opportunity and look forward to playing in my hometown on a golf course I grew up on."

Mickelson's six runner-up finishes rank among some of the most memorable, and painful, in golf history. They include 1999, when he fell just short to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst; 2006, when he collapsed on the final hole at Winged Foot; 2009, when he couldn't catch Lucas Glover at Bethpage; and 2013, when he couldn't outrun Justin Rose at Merion. 

Since that Merion loss, Mickelson has finished no better than T28, and missed the tournament in 2017 to attend his daughter's graduation. He missed the cut in 2020. 

Mickelson's special exemption is rare but not unprecedented; the USGA has granted 35 players a total of 53 special exemptions. Jack Nicklaus, who won the U.S. Open four times, also received eight special exemptions, playing until he was 60. Arnold Palmer received five, and played until he was 64. The most recent players to receive a special exemption were Jim Furyk in 2018 and Ernie Els in 2018 and 2019, and the most recent special exemption for a player who had not won a U.S. Open went to Vijay Singh in 2010. The only player to win the tournament on a special exemption is Hale Irwin in 1990. 

Recently, Mickelson had indicated he would enter a qualifying tournament in Columbus, Ohio if he hadn't played his way into the tournament. Players in the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings qualify automatically, and Mickelson is currently ranked 116th. He's played 10 events in the 2020-21 season, with a top finish of T21 at the Masters in April. 

The special exemption spares Mickelson the challenge, and possible humiliation, of playing through a qualifying tournament. 

"Phil Mickelson's incredible USGA playing record and overall career achievements are among the most noteworthy in the game's history," USGA CEO Mike Davis said in a statement. "We are thrilled to welcome him to this year's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines."

Phil's headed back to the U.S. Open. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Phil's headed back to the U.S. Open. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook at @jaybusbee, or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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