ARDMORE, PA. - Father of the week Phil Mickelson now wants to be golfer of the week.
After attending his daughter Amanda’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony in California on Wednesday night, Mickelson hopped in his private jet and landed in Philadelphia at 3:30 a.m. for the U.S. Open. He arrived at Merion Golf Club two hours later to prepare for his morning tee time.
Who needs sleep?
Mickelson said he got “a few hours” on the plane and then used the three-and-a-half hour rain delay to sneak in another hour.
“I feel great,” he said after carding a first-round 67 before weather suspended play for the day.
The one time that Mickelson has never felt great is after a U.S. Open. He’s quick to say what it would mean to him to win his national open, but the pain this tournament has caused him is hiding just behind that easy smile.
Five times he has finished in second place. Five times it’s been a punch to the gut.
At Bethpage Black in 2009 his putting fell apart down the stretch.
At Winged Foot in 2006 he famously called himself “such an idiot” for throwing it away on the final hole.
At Shinnecock Hills in 2004 he three-putted from five feet on the second-to-last hole.
At Bethpage Black in 2002 he lost to Tiger Woods while his mind was back home with wife Amy who was set to begin cancer treatment.
At Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999 Payne Stewart made a putt that nobody, including Phil, will ever forget. After beating Mickelson, Stewart -- who had a knack for saying the right thing -- grabbed a young Mickelson by the face and yelled, “You’re going to be a father!”
Mickelson’s first daughter Amanda was born the next day.
Maybe his trip home is final proof to the golf gods that this man is worthy of winning this championship. Then again, these gods aren’t known for their mercy.
Sam Snead knows that.
Snead was a four-time runner-up whose painful past included making a triple bogey on the 72nd hole at the Philadelphia Country Club, not too far from Merion. A par would have won and a bogey would have forced a playoff. Snead never won a U.S. Open.
Mickelson reflected on his U.S. Open career Thursday after his round.
“Well, if I'm able, and I believe I will, if I'm able to ultimately win a U.S. Open, I would say that it's great,” he said. “Because I've had, I will have had a, let's say a win and five seconds.”
Let’s pause here for dramatic effect.
“But, If I never get that win, then it would be a bit heartbreaking.”
He’s right, It would be a bit heartbreaking. In a live-on-forever-in-sports-history kind of way.
There would be no more popular winner than Mickelson. U.S. Open crowds love him and it’s no different at here at Merion.
With his driver back home in California, he put his five wedges to work. He saved par after taking a full swing out of the greenside bunker on the 246-yard, par-3 third hole. Two holes later, at the most difficult hole on the course, he made a miracle par after just missing the water with his tee shot.
“I think in the U.S. Open, par saves are as big or bigger than birdies,” he said.
That might be so, but one of the biggest roars of the day on the course came when he birdied the seventh hole (his 15th of the day) by hitting a three-quarter swing skipper that stopped dead at the hole.
“This was my best shot of the day,” he said. “It was a little 9-iron. You can't go two yards long or you're going to have a hard par and I flew it exactly where I wanted to and it ended up with a tap in. That was a good one.”
The U.S. Open is just starting and Mickelson more than anyone understands the trouble that lurks ahead. But If this is to be his year, it would be a fitting next chapter in the storied history of Merion.
“I think it's the best U.S. Open setup I've ever seen,” he said Thursday.
Let’s see what he says on Sunday, his birthday.