‘Lefty Slam’ puts Phil Mickelson’s quest for 1st U.S. Open title in the spotlight

Streeter Lecka

Phil Mickelson and Payne Stewart became inextricably linked after Stewart, in the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, handed Lefty his first of a record six runner-up finishes and died four months later in a plane crash.

Phil Mickelson, with Tiger Woods sidelined for his second consecutive major of the 2014 season, and his own quest for his first national championship title the overriding sports and human-interest storyline heading into next week’s Open, has center stage at Pinehurst almost to himself.

Sure, Bubba Watson’s try for back-to-back major trophies, Adam Scott’s effort to cement his No. 1 world ranking, and Rory McIlroy’s physical and emotional well-being are all vying for spotlight coverage. But it’s Lefty’s seemingly never-ending crusade for the career grand slam, after  last year’s record sixth runner-up finish and with his own health and personal issues major question marks, that should make for multi-hankie TV viewing this week and next.

Ahead of next week’s festivities, NBC Sports’ "Lefty Slam" will broadcast a 30-minute special at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 7, that will look back at a Hall of Fame career that includes five major and 42 PGA Tour victories and assess his ability to win, finally, each of the four major championships. Those who have done so are members of an elite club to which only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods belong, and Phil wants in. Badly.

"It would be one of the great wins of all time," NBC lead analyst and 1973 U.S. Open winner Johnny Miller opines in the program.

"If there’s some kind of justice in the world," Miller’s colleague Roger Maltbie observes, "he’s supposed to win this year."

Why this year? Because, despite the worst start to any season of his career, Mickelson will return to the place where he collected the first of his second-place ribbons.

And speaking of that dramatic final round in 1999, when Payne Stewart dropped his Open-winning last putt, struck that famed victory pose forever memorialized in a statue at Pinehurst, celebrated with his caddie, and grabbed young Mickelson’s face in his hands to proclaim to the first-time father-to-be how amazing it would be to be a dad, Golf Channel and ESPN both offer tear-jerkers remembering Stewart’s victory and subsequent death four months later in a plane crash.

"Payne" will air on GC on June 8 at 5 p.m. and June 9th on NBC at 10 p.m.

ESPN’s "Love & Payne" on ESPN is a half-hour "love story that resonates beyond the tragedy, beyond golf; one that I hope will touch and inspire those who watch the film," says director Hannah Storm.

"Love & Payne" debuted on Wednesday on espnW.com.

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