U.S. Open: Mickelson loses match to teenagers

Phil Mickelson on the seventh hole during a practice round at the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

Phil Mickelson on the seventh hole during a practice round at the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

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SAN FRANCISCO – There’s already been one upset at Olympic Club. Phil Mickelson lost Tuesday to a couple of teenagers.

Mickelson is known for nurturing young players, but Tuesday’s playing partners weren’t his usual PGA Tour proteges: Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland. Think younger.

Two days before Mickelson plays the U.S. Open’s headline pairing with Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson, he played a practice round with two teen-aged amateurs and a club pro. The teens, Beau Hossler and Alberto Sanchez, teamed against Mickelson and Mike McCormick, a left-handed pro at Suburban Golf Club in Union, N.J. The youngsters beat the southpaws, 1 up.

“It was best-ball, righties vs. lefties, two 17-year-olds against, I don’t know how old those guys are now,” said Sanchez, who graduated from La Jolla Country Day School on June 1, three days before he qualified for the Open at nearby Lake Merced and TPC Harding Park.

Their grouping illustrated all that’s great about the U.S. Open, which annually attracts a varied cast of characters to one of America’s best layouts. Mickelson, the world’s 13th-ranked player, is seeking his first Open after a record five runners-up. Hossler and Sanchez are up-and-coming amateurs. McCormick, 49, is playing his first Open after years of trying.

Sanchez has signed a letter of intent to play for Mickelson’s younger brother, Tim, this fall at Arizona State. Phil helped the practice pairing take form, contacting Tim after learning Tim’s future charge qualified for the Open. Sanchez brought along his friend Hossler, who’s playing his second consecutive Open, to join the fun. The left-handed McCormick got in the group with the help of two local golf writers who know Mickelson.

“It was definitely a highlight, and I hope to add to it,” said Sanchez, one of eight amateurs in the Open field.

Sanchez and Phil Mickelson share a home course, San Diego’s Grand Del Mar. Sanchez hasn’t been able to play with Mickelson, an Arizona State alumnus, because of NCAA rules. The Mickelson brothers were playing there this past fall when Phil invited Sanchez to join them. Tim had to break the bad news to Sanchez.

Playing with Phil was worth the wait. Tuesday’s round allowed Sanchez to see how a Hall of Famer prepares for golf’s toughest test. Mickelson engaged his playing partners throughout the round, often walking alongside them down the fairways and pointing out treacherous spots around each green. “I’ve got Phil Mickelson reading putts for me,” McCormick recalled thinking. “This is crazy. He was just a regular guy trying to encourage me and get me to relax and have a good time.”

Mark's son, Ryan, recalled thinking, “Oh, man, this is real. Phil is actually playing with my dad,” as Mickelson approached the first tee. Ryan McCormick’s “player instructor” badge allowed him to walk the fairways with his father. Ryan, who plays at St. John’s, helps his father but also is an accomplished player. He won last week’s New Jersey Amateur. Ryan was in the same sectional qualifier as his father but failed to advance. “I got over it pretty quickly,” Ryan McCormick said about his unsuccessful qualifying attempt. His disappointment was outweighed by his excitement for his father. Tuesday’s round only made the experience better.

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