DUBLIN, Ohio – Phil Mickelson has about everything for which a man could ask. A terrific family, a Hall of Fame career, a big California manse, multi-million-dollar endorsement deals, a meaningful foundation … shoot, he even owns a personal jet. What do you get for the man who has everything? For Phil’s birthday a few years ago, his wife, Amy, bought him a rare dinosaur head.
For Mickelson, though, perhaps the biggest title for which he lacks, the U.S. Open, just may not be in the offing. Perhaps it isn’t meant to be, as was the case with Sam Snead, who owns the all-time PGA Tour mark for victories (82) yet never won his national Open.
Mickelson will keep his tee time just in case something strange happens, but he has notified U.S. Golf Association CEO Mike Davis of the probability that he will miss the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills in 12 days. Instead, he will attend the high school graduation of his oldest daughter, Amanda.
Amanda Mickelson, president of her class at Pacific Ridge High School in Carlsbad, Calif., will deliver a speech at her commencement, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on June 15, which happens to be the first day of the U.S. Open. Her father said it’s simply a life moment that he refuses to miss.
So what would Mickelson, who turns 47 next month, trade for one of those U.S. Open trophies?
“Well, since I have three Masters, maybe a Masters …” he said after a third-round 72 left him at 4-under 216 at Memorial.
Mickelson has won each of golf’s other three majors (three Masters, the British Open and a PGA), but the U.S. Open has eluded him. Not that he hasn’t knocked on the door. He has been a U.S. Open runner-up six times, a tournament record. He was runner-up to the late Payne Stewart at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999, the year he carried a beeper as his wife, Amy, grew close with the couple’s first child. Amanda was born the day after the championship.
“I mean, obviously it’s a tournament that I want to win the most, and it’s a tournament . . . the only way to win is if you play and have a chance,” he said. “But this is one of those moments where you look back on life and you just don’t want to miss it. I’ll be really glad that I was there and present.”
He wanted to keep Davis in the loop as the USGA made feature pairings for its television window, and also so that an alternate is apprised of the situation and will be ready to go. Even if he had the last time on Thursday, he would not be able to get there in time to make it. That said, as of now, he’s officially in the field.
“Mike and I both agree there’s no sense in doing it (withdrawing) right now. You never know what might happen, maybe something comes up with the commencement, maybe something comes up with the weather,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen, but it doesn’t look very good. It would have to be something unforeseen.”
Six times Mickelson has been awarded the U.S. Open’s silver medal for being the tournament’s runner-up. Stewart beat him with a clutch up-and-down for par in 1999; at Shinnecock in 2004 he three-putted the 71st hole for double bogey from 5 feet (Retief Goosen won); Mickelson led after 54 holes at Merion in 2013, only to play poorly on Sunday. Twice he ran second at New York’s Bethpage Black.
But the one that stung the most was 2006 at Winged Foot, where Mickelson stepped to the final hole with a one-shot lead, clanked a drive off a hospitality tent, hit a tree with his second shot and made double bogey. Three people tied for second that year and there was one silver medal to award at the ceremony; the Mickelsons reasoned that somebody else should take it, since they already had three at home.
Four years ago, Mickelson departed Philadelphia early on U.S. Open week to return to California to be at Amanda’s eighth-grade graduation. He had an early tee time Thursday, and got there with two hours to spare. He finished second that week. Mickelson said Amanda always has been very supportive of him and what he does, and she knows what the U.S. Open means to him. This time, there was no need for much discussion.
Dad was going to make it to the commencement.
“It’s one of those things that you just show up,” Mickelson said. “You just need to be there. It wasn’t really something that we discussed, because it really wasn’t much of a decision.”
Amanda Mickelson will head to the East Coast in the fall to attend Brown University. She’ll be an Ivy Leaguer. She played lacrosse, basketball and tennis at Pacific Ridge, and at Brown, she plans to study Egyptology.
Of the 26 U.S. Opens that he has played, Mickelson said that he often finds himself daydreaming of 1999 at Pinehurst, thinking about the close finish, about Payne Stewart cupping his cheeks on that 72nd green (“You’re going to be a father!” Stewart proclaimed to him), and about getting ready for a first child. (The Mickelsons also have another daughter, Sophia, and a son, Evan.)
“The birth of your child, any child, but especially your first child, is the most emotional event you can ever experience and share together with your wife,” Mickelson said. “And I always think about that at the U.S. Open. I think about Payne Stewart and I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by. Here she is turning 18 and moving off to college and I’m so proud of her. And she’s a special person. I’m excited to see what she has to say at her commencement.”
As for Dad, he knows there will be other U.S. Opens, even if his window to capture one is closing swiftly. The oldest man to win a U.S. Open was Hale Irwin, who was 45 when he won his third U.S. Open title at Medinah in 1990.
“I’ve been starting to play some really good golf and it hasn’t come together in the scoring yet,” said Mickelson, who has not missed a cut this season, but also has not won since his 2013 British Open triumph. “Maybe it will in the course of the next 12 months, and I will put it together on a course like Shinnecock (2018 U.S. Open site), where I’ve played well before. For now, though, I’ll be cheering on TV.”
Does he look forward to that in any way? A devilish grin creased Mickelson’s face.
“Yeah, I’ll revel in watching them get punished,” he said.