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June 15, 2014

Regardless of score, Phil Mickelson is the people’s champion

Phil Mickelson didn’t make a run at the US Open title or even second place, but he left adoring fans in Pinehurst with a smile and more time to spend with his kids.

The cheers started as soon as the flag was back in the 17th green.


Phil Mickelson received a standing ovation from the fans in the stands on the 18th tee and another as he approached the 18th green. Judging from the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, it would have been impossible to guess this was for the man who would finish tied for 28th place, 7 over par.

After his tee shot sailed down the right side of the fairway, the people began calling out to their champion.

“Last hole, birdie it up, Phil!”

Mickelson turned his head and offered a thumbs up.

“Happy birthday, Phil!”

Another head turn, another thumbs up.

“My birthday is tomorrow, too, Phil,” from a man standing on the balcony outside a row of tents.

Again, as the chimes from the Village Chapel began to sound.

“What do you say, Phil?”

His approach shot landed on the green, setting up an attempt at birdie. As his playing partner, Brendon Todd from Cary, sized up his putt, Mickelson gave two waist-high waves to his three childrenwaiting outside the ropes on the right side of the green. Mickelson’s birdie attempt wouldn’t fall – the story of his week – and he tapped in for par. A wave of his cap to the crowd, and his round was complete. The U.S. Open, 24. Phil Mickelson, 0.

Afterward, he twice said he wasn’t disappointed. When asked again, he clarified.

“I was disappointed earlier this week than Sunday,” he said, with a bit of a smile.

“I believe in the next five years I’m going to have three or four really good chances, and I do believe I will get it.”

Walking off the green, down the steps to enter the basement of the clubhouse, an overaggressive autograph seeker on the porch overhead was reprimanded by caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay. That’s out of line, Mackay said of his forceful demand for a signature. He still has to sign his scorecard.

While Mickelson was making his 2-over-par 72 official, his wife, Amy, and his three children – Amanda, Sophia and Evan – came down the stairs. There were hugs and Father’s Day wishes for Mackay, and, when their dad emerged, red-faced and sweaty from his tour of Pinehurst No. 2, hugs and Father’s Day wishes for him, too.

Thanks for coming, Mickelson told his kids as they shared a group hug. His son asked if they could finish their game of Monopoly – Dad gave him a high-five as an affirmative. He kissed his wife and told her to drive the kids back to their rental house. He would see them in 15 minutes. First, he wanted to go sign.

Mickelson walked back up the steps and to the barrier on his right, where children and adults were pressed against the barrier with tickets and merchandise in hand. He dutifully signed, and, more like 30 minutes later, he was standing at the media podium, wrapping up his final obligation of the weekend.

Was it better to finish so far back instead of second for a seventh time in his U.S. Open career?

“Not at all,” he said. “It is way worse, because there’s nothing more exciting than having a chance. There’s nothing more exciting than waking up Sunday with a 3:25 tee time and an opportunity to win the U.S. Open, whether you win or lose, because that pressure, that nervous feeling, those butterflies, that energy from the crowd when you make a birdie, the excitement, there’s no he replacement for that.”

Mickelson’s tee time was at 12:39 p.m., a few hours earlier than he wanted. But his consolation prize was an earlier flight home, more time with his kids on Father’s Day. Fifteen years ago, in 1999, he had raced back from Pinehurst No. 2 (after his first second-place finish) to be present for the birth of his oldest daughter, Amanda. Next week she turns 15 and has braces and a younger sister and brother.

“He’s a pretty cool kid,” Mickelson said when asked about his son. “We’ve got a Monopoly game to finish, and we’ve got a couple of other things that we’ll do on the flight back.”

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