Mickelson knows wild U.S. Open qualifiers

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson

DUBLIN, Ohio – Rain, thunder, sirens, air horns. That’s the storyline here at the 2010 Memorial Tournament.

Rickie Fowler may have spent two days burning things up to get to 13 under and build a three-stroke edge, but clearly the leader in the clubhouse is Mother Nature.

The plan to push tee times way up Saturday and employ both tees in groups of threes was scrapped when heavy thunderstorms rolled in. As lunch approaches, third-round play has yet to commence, and one has to wonder if we’ll get in any golf today.

Yes, it raises the possibility of a marathon finish Sunday for the 71 who made the cut, but frankly, the buzz here at Muirfield Village centers around that annual challenge that hangs over so many players’ heads.

U.S. Open qualifying.

Just the mention of it makes players shiver, because none of them embrace the notion of walking 36 holes. But it’s a reality if you’d like to punch a ticket to the show at Pebble Beach in two weeks.

Presently, 33 players who made the cut at the Memorial are entered into a qualifier Monday in nearby Columbus. Even more of a challenge is this: Three players (Nathan Green, Greg Chalmers, Chad Collins) are scheduled to play in Memphis, Tenn., and another (Spencer Levin) is signed on in Sacramento, Calif.

Perhaps provisions will be made, maybe Mother Nature will decide to cooperate, but regardless, it figures to provide more fodder for those who find great flavor in these grueling qualifiers.

Even players who hate these qualifiers eventually can look back and cast a smile about the experience.

Take the day in Columbus almost 17 years ago. Yes, Phil Mickelson remembers. How can he forget the day when he was knocked out of a chance to go to the national championship? In fact, 1993 remains the last time Mickelson missed a U.S. Open – and for that he can thank Eric Hoos.

Eric Who?

From Colorado where he coaches the University of Denver golf team, Hoos laughs. Beating Mickelson at the tail end of a wild playoff that carried through many extra holes and into a second day remains one of his favorite memories from his golf-playing days.

“It’s more special given the great success he’s had,” Hoos said. “I mean, I got to go to the (U.S.) Open and all my family came out to watch.”

It wasn’t so much that Mickelson lost to Hoos as how the scenario unfolded.

“The whole thing was wild,” said Jim “Bones” Mackay, Mickelson’s longtime caddie. “It started when Phil shot 74 in the morning then had two early bogeys in the afternoon. We weren’t sitting there thinking we had much of a chance.”

At last until the lefthander, who had won his first tournament as a PGA Tour member earlier in the year, went on a tear. “He just started making birdies everywhere,” Mackay said.

At his 36th hole, Mickelson had a 6-footer for birdie to get to 140, which would have gotten him through. He lipped it out and fell into a 10-way tie at 141.

Unfortunately, only seven of those 10 could advance – and two of them snap-hooked tee shots into water at the first playoff hole, so in essence, there were eight playing for seven spots.

“One of the guys who hit in the water was Phil’s best friend from college, Rob Mangini,” Mackay said. “Weird.”

On and on went the playoff, and one by one birdies were made and guys advanced. Bruce Vaughan. Sean Murphy. Brad Fabel. Dick Mast. Kelly Gibson. Darryl Court.

Only Mickelson and Hoos were left.

Long gone were the co-medalists – Mark Wiebe, Robert Gamez, Larry Mize, D.A. Weibring, and Nolan Henke. Long gone, too, were qualifiers named Kenny Perry, Peter Jacobsen, Jeff Maggert, Wayne Levi, Robert Maltbie, Lee Rinker, Howard Twitty, and a young Steve Flesch.

It was down to two . . . “and then the day was done,” Mackay said. “Amazing, they told us we’d have to come back the next day.”

Exhausted, Mickelson and Mackay went in search of accommodations. But Hoos? He had the good fortune of having a club caddie who had connections.

“The club (Brookside) had rooms upstairs, and I was able to get one,” Hoos said. “The people were great. They said, ‘What time should we wake you up?’ And in the morning when they did (wake him up), they said, ‘Good morning, Mr. Hoos, it’s time to go beat Mr. Mickelson.’ ”

Hoos did, too. On the very first hole.

“He made this big sweeping putt, complete with a big rooster tail,” Mackay said, referring to the thick morning dew that was flying up and off the rolling ball.

“There was water everywhere,” Mickelson said.

Hoos doesn’t disagree, nor does he deny that he hit the ball a bit too hard. He was taking into account the fact that the green hadn’t been mowed and they were wet, “but I’m fortunate that it hit the center of the hole and went in.”

Because he missed his birdie try, Mickelson was thus eliminated. “But who has had the last laugh?” he said as he strolled into the Muirfield Village clubhouse.

Mickelson was just having fun, because the disappointment from that 1993 qualifier has long since faded, helped immensely by a career that has earned him nearly $60 million and four major championships.

And Hoos? After seven years chasing the dream and driving from one outpost to another, quite often alongside R.W. Eaks, he has settled in at the University of Denver.

“It’s all worked out well,” Hoos said. “I love coaching.”

Heck, it’s a job that keeps him in touch with another guy named Mickelson – in this case, Tim Mickelson, head coach at the University of San Diego.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Hoos said.

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