After a career full of U.S. Open nightmares, we all might witness the fulfillment of a lifetime’s worth of dreams for Phil Mickelson on Sunday.
Although he struggled early in the third round Saturday, Mickelson rallied to shoot an even par 70 and put himself atop the leader board at the U.S. Open at Merion. On Sunday, he’ll be in the final group with Hunter Mahan as he desperately tries to win the elusive U.S. Open Championship.
At 42, some people thought Mickelson’s best golf was behind him…and perhaps it is. But there’s something about Mickelson and the U.S. Open; he’s always a part of the storyline. Though he’s never won the illustrious tournament, he has finished second a record five times. He’s been close, particularly in 2006 at Winged Foot when he famously blew a one stroke lead on the 72nd hole of the tournament. A par would have won him the tournament, but for some reason he used driver off the tee, flared his drive way left and made a double-bogey that cost him. When asked about why he hit the driver he famously said, “I’m such an idiot.”
However, it’s another close call that might provide perfect symmetry if Mickelson is able to hoist the winner’s trophy of Sunday. In 1999, he and Payne Stewart battled all the way to the 72nd hole at Pinehurst. Mickelson and his wife Amy were expecting their first child at any moment, so Mickelson played the round with a pager nearby. On the last hole, Stewart rolled in a miraculous 15-foot putt to win the championship in dramatic fashion. In an emotional scene, he cheered up a visibly dejected Mickelson by grabbing him by the face and saying, “You’re going to be a father!”
The next day, Amy gave birth to a healthy daughter they named Amanda. Fast forward 14 years. This week at Merion, Mickelson drew criticism because of his decision to attend Amanda’s eighth grade graduation. People thought if Mickelson was serious about winning this week, he wouldn’t fly back home on Wednesday for a graduation, only to have to take the red eye back for Thursday morning’s early first round tee time.
But that’s Phil. Critics were right, Tiger Woods likely wouldn’t do the same if he was faced with a similar situation. When the majors come around, Woods is laser focused and doesn’t have time for distraction, family or otherwise. Mickelson always appears to see the big picture though. Yes, it’s a major, and perhaps one of his last best chances to win the U.S. Open, but his daughter will only graduate eighth grade once. So he went…criticisms and all.
Now, he sits on the precipice of what could be the biggest win of his career. Turns out that late night flight might have drained some of Mickelson’s energy, but not his desire to win the U.S. Open. He’s 18 holes from golfing nirvana. All the heartache and pain that comes with a handful of second place finishes could be replaced with the exhilaration of chasing down a dream. Everything seems to be lining up for the Mickelson family as they hope to watch dad win his first U.S. Open Sunday.
Sunday will hold special meaning for the family because it’s Mickelson’s 43rd birthday. It’s also a day to celebrate what he showed the world was most important to him earlier in the week. More important than fulfilling a childhood golfing dream.
B.L. is a sports writer for Rant Sports and can be followed on Twitter @coachlip.