Phil second again, but with perspective
Monday, June 22, 2009
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – There was no smile, just a look of resignation as Phil Mickelson trudged wearily up the muddy slope off the 18th green. He was finally finished in a U.S. Open that seemed like it would never end, and the shouts of support coming from the bleachers were never going to mask the realization that another chance had slipped away.
Mickelson had somehow found yet another way to lose the one tournament he wants so desperately to win. He would leave without the trophy his ailing wife wanted him to bring home.
He knew this role well, having played it five times now, more than any other golfer in U.S. Open history. That didn’t make it any easier, but this time it would be different.
It had to be, because now there was some perspective. Now he understood that there are heartbreaking losses and, well, just plain heartbreak.
“Certainly I’m disappointed,” Mickelson said. “But now that it’s over, I’ve got more important things going on.”
All of New York, it seemed, was rooting him on, because all of them knew what those more important things are.
Amy Mickelson will undergo exploratory surgery for breast cancer on July 1, and Mickelson will be gone from golf for a while. The perfect way to leave would have been as the Open champion, and for a time Monday it looked like he would finally break through and do just that.
He came from five back to tie for the lead with an eagle on the 13th hole that sent the crowd into a frenzy. It seemed like he was destined to win, destined to turn a long and sometimes miserable U.S. Open into one we might never forget.
A few holes behind, Lucas Glover heard the noise and knew what it meant.
“I guess it’s like what they used to say at Augusta; you could hear a ‘Jack roar’ at Augusta,” Glover said. “You can hear a ‘Phil roar.’ I knew something was going on.”
Unfortunately for Mickelson, it didn’t go on long. His old nemesis – the missed 3-footer – cost him a bogey two holes later and his chances pretty much evaporated when he couldn’t get up-and-down from just short of the green on the par-3 17th.
He would tie David Duval and Ricky Barnes for second, two strokes back. That usually gets a consolation prize of a silver medal, but the USGA had only one to split between the three of them – and Mickelson wasn’t all that interested anyway.
“He said, ‘I got four, I’m plenty good,’” Barnes said later.
Amy Mickelson didn’t want the silver medal, either. She had left her husband hints about bringing back the Open silver trophy so she could have something to decorate her hospital room with.
Once again, he came agonizingly close to delivering.
Mickelson had made the decision to play only a few weeks earlier after tests showed that Amy’s cancer had been caught early and was likely very treatable. The golf course was supposed to be his refuge, but she was never going to be far from his thoughts and those of the vocal New York fans.
On his way to the course Monday, Mickelson couldn’t have helped but notice a bedsheet strung between two poles in the front yard of a home just outside Bethpage State Park.
“God bless Amy,” it read. “Good luck Phil.”
That pretty much summed up the relationship with fans who adopted Mickelson the last time the Open was here seven years ago and showed him even more love this time. They roared every time he hit a good shot, groaned collectively when he missed a putt, and shouted encouraging words as he walked down the fairway.
As he approached the 18th green and a birdie putt that would have at least made things interesting, they clapped and sang to him as if they were at a Mets game.
“Let’s go, Phil. Let’s go, Phil.”
One reason they love him here is because he pays them back. On a day when he had every reason to frown, he smiled his way around Bethpage, waving and giving a thumbs-up to anyone who grabbed his attention.
When it was all over, he stood and signed autographs until, it seemed, everyone who had a ticket had his signature. Then he signed some more for the New York state troopers who escorted him to his car.
Then it was off to the airport and his private jet. The plan was to pick up Amy and the kids for a family vacation before her surgery, then play it by ear after that.
Before leaving, though, there were questions to answer. He talked about the week, the fans at Bethpage, and his disappointment at not being able to finish things off.
Finally, he was asked to describe his emotions, a task that on this day he just wasn’t up to.
“I don’t really know where to go with that,” Mickelson said. “Just that there’s some more important things going on.”