Looking Back ... Mickelson wins 1990 U.S. Amateur

Tuesday, the USGA took a look back at then-SCGA member Phil Mickelson's 1990 U.S. Amateur win. Enjoy the article below.


After a series of close calls, the ASU All-American beat friend, fellow San Diego native Zerman, 5 and 4, in final at Cherry Hills C.C.

By Dave Shedloski
August 1, 2012

On the way to winning the 90th United States Amateur Championship, and becoming the first left-handed golfer to capture the biggest prize in amateur golf, Phil Mickelson survived close calls in three of his six matches, though not in the final when he defeated collegiate rival and fellow San Diegan Manny Zerman, 5 and 4, at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver.

He was lucky he’ll tell you. In fact, he won’t stop telling you.

“I didn’t have my A-game for a lot of those [early] matches, but I hit some good shots at key times, and I would certainly admit that I had some luck,” Mickelson said, recalling his run. “There were a few rounds I didn't necessarily have my best, and my opponent didn't either, and I was able to win those matches barely. I think you just need a little bit of luck to win the Amateur.”

It helps if you’re also good, and Mickelson, then a 20-year-old Arizona State University All-American, already was plenty good. In fact, the lefty was the favorite after successfully defending his NCAA Division I individual championship earlier in the year.

If there was luck involved, so be it. But the San Diego native, who the following year would win the PGA Tour’s Northern Telecom Open while still an amateur, possessed not only talent, but also a mile-high confidence level.

That he showed on the first hole of the second round of match play. After finishing as medalist with rounds of 71-64—135, the latter score coming at nearby Meridian Golf Club and which set the championship record, Mickelson opened with a 1-up win over 1974 Amateur runner-up John Grace after falling into an early 2-down hole.

Then he met Jeff Thomas, 31, of South Plainfield, N.J., who later won a U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. Thomas took three to reach the green and was stalking a 25-foot par putt while Mickelson had a 4-footer for birdie. Inexplicably, Mickelson conceded Thomas’s par putt and then sank his birdie try to go 1-up. He went on to a 6-and-5 victory.

At the time, Mickelson said he gave Thomas the putt “to put some pressure on myself.” More than 20 years later, he’s a bit more wistful about the gesture.

“I'll never forget the look that he gave me. It was just funny,” Mickelson recalled. “I ended up making a three‑ or four‑foot birdie putt to win the hole. Why did I do that? Well, he took like two minutes to hit the chip shot, and he hit it 40 feet by the hole. Then he started the process again, and I just thought, ‘just pick it up.’ So he did, and I made it, and we went on.”

Mickelson’s flair emerged in the third round, and it also saved him.

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