Assuming some Disney executive would have deemed it believable, it had the makings of the best sports movie ever.
All Phil Mickelson had to do was win his first U.S. Open on his 43rd birthday, which just also happened to be Father’s Day.
Heck, “Father’s Day” might even have been a good name for such a film, especially given Mickelson’s mid-week, cross-country flight from Philadelphia to his home in California and back again just so he could attend his daughter’s graduation from middle school.
We repeat, middle school. Not college. Not high school. Middle school. It was as if Lefty was attempting to win Father of the Year and our national golf championship in the same week.
I mean, the guy gets back to Philly around 5:30 Thursday morning, tees off before 10 and shoots a 67, which tied the best opening-round score he’d ever shot at the Open.
Then he followed that up with a one-stroke lead heading into Sunday’s final round, a lead he regained on Merion’s 10th hole by delivering an eagle with his beloved 64-degree wedge.
At that moment, Mickelson one up on the field, NBC’s Dan Hicks understandably gushed, “It’s the kind of shot that would make you believe fate is on your side … finally.”
Finally. After a record five runner-up finishes, Phil the Thrill was about to quit playing like a Buffalo Bill and more like a Golden Bear.
But this being Merion — the devilish “quaint little gem” (Hicks’ words) — Mickelson was as likely to become a basket case as ultimately conquer the course’s wicker-basket pins, which was exactly what Lefty did down the stretch.
Over the final eight holes he racked up three bogeys after making two double-bogeys on the opening nine, proving yet again that when it comes to Sundays at the U.S. Open, what Phil does best is fold.
And once he began to struggle, Englishman Justin Rose was only too happy to step up, becoming the first of his countrymen to capture our Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970. No Englishman had won a major of any kind since Nick Faldo slipped on his third Masters green jacket in 1996.
Thing is, Rose may have always been the better story, no matter how much that hurts our Red, White and Blue sensibilities and loyalty.
Rose’s own father, Ken, moved the family from South Africa to England before he started school in order to give them more opportunities.
The plan worked. Justin became an amateur star. But then he missed 28 cuts in his first 33 professional tournaments, including 21 straight at one point. Despite a swing so smooth and effortless that Tiger Woods has attempted to copy it, the 32-year-old Rose has been seen as something of a mild disappointment, his first major still to be won.
Then leukemia took Ken’s life in 2002. The loss still haunts the son, who looked to the heavens on the 18th fairway after a perfect second shot into the green, tears filling his eyes.
Afterward, the U.S. Open trophy in his hands, Rose delivered the words so many of us feel on Father’s Day: “A lot of us come from great men, and we have a responsibility to our children to show what a great man can be. I couldn’t help but look up to the heavens and think that my old man Ken had something to do with it.”
To help illustrate his passion for his own small children, Rose has the words Leo and Lottie stamped on the backs of his golf shoes for son Leo and infant daughter Charlotte.
Yet even in victory he gave a gracious nod to Mickelson’s mid-week marathon, saying of the man whose heart he broke: “A big shout-out to Phil for how he handled himself as a father this week.”
And that he did. But down Sunday’s homestretch, he handled the five wedges he stuffed in his bag for Merion as if they were pick axes instead of paint brushes.
“The wedges killed him,” said NBC’s Johnny Miller, who won his lone U.S. Open 40 years ago. “Phil had a million chances to win today.”
To Mickelson’s credit, he didn’t challenge that assessment.
“This was my best chance of all of them,” he said, the shock of yet another second still frozen on his face. “I had a golf course I really liked. I felt this was as good an opportunity as you could ask for.”
Instead, an Englishman came to Philadelphia and made off with our national championship for the first time in 43 years. If there’s a consolation for Phil’s Phanatics today, it’s that at least two sets of pro golfers’ children learned this past week what great fathers they have.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...