Phil Mickelson returns to a special Pinehurst
Phil Mickelson brought his family to the U.S. Open this week, and not just to watch him play golf.
He wanted his wife to see where he stayed that eventful week in 1999. He wanted his daughter to understand what happened six years ago when her dad would have given up his chance at an Open title to be able to witness her birth.
He wanted them to understand the emotions of frustration and then joy that he felt as he lost an Open and gained a daughter within the space of 24 hours.
``We tell the story to our daughter Amanda about her birth and how it all took place and the story about it,'' Mickelson said earlier this week. ``It'll be fun for her to be at the place that we've been talking about all these years.''
Mickelson was not yet a father on Father's Day 1999, but it seemed he was about to become something else he also wanted badly to be -- an Open champion.
He came to North Carolina the night before the Open began, not wanting to leave his expectant wife, Amy, any longer than he had to. He came wearing a beeper that would go off if Amy's water broke.
And he came promising everyone he would leave immediately if that happened. Becoming a father, he said, was more important than winning an Open.
During the day he played golf -- and played it well. At night, he and Amy talked long hours on the phone about becoming parents for the first time.
``My wife and I shared something very special, not only the day after the event ended but throughout the whole week,'' Mickelson said. ``We were talking on the phone, talking about how she was feeling, talking about Amanda kicking and the things she was doing.''
Mickelson was already stuck with the label of being the best player who had never won a major, and it didn't seem that would be his week. Not only was he preoccupied with Amy's pregnancy, but he had never set foot on Pinehurst No. 2 before.
That didn't seem to matter on Thursday when, beeper in his bag, Mickelson opened with a 67 for a share of the first round lead. He came into the interview area afterward and told a disbelieving media he would pack up his clubs and go home when the beeper went off, no matter if he was leading the Open.
``It's not worth the tournament,'' he insisted. ``As important as the U.S. Open is to me and every other player in the field, this is the birth of my first child.''
Mickelson followed with rounds of 70 and 73 and was a stroke behind Payne Stewart entering the final round. The beeper still hadn't gone off and now Mickelson moved into the lead on the back nine on Father's Day.
Standing on the 16th fairway ahead by a shot, Mickelson thought the Open was his to lose. Then Stewart saved par with a 25-footer on 16, Mickelson missed his 6-foot par putt and Stewart birdied the 17th with a 6-iron to 3 feet.
Mickelson still had a shot. Stewart was in trouble on 18, and Lefty's 25-foot birdie putt stopped just inches short. He then watched as Stewart stood over his 15-footer to win in the fading light and stroked it into the cup for the win.
Stewart celebrated, then went up to Mickelson, grabbed both sides of his face and said to him, ``Good luck with the baby. There's nothing like being a father.''
``I was so focused and I really thought I was going to win the tournament and it was kind of a shock to me that it didn't happen,'' Mickelson said.
Stewart's putt didn't just go down in Open history. It also prevented a Monday playoff that might have been a one-man affair.
Amy's water broke the next day, just about the time the playoff would have started. By then, Mickelson had already flown in his private jet home and was with her for Amanda's birth.
``I would have left,'' Mickelson said, assuming there was a playoff. ``I would have just made it back probably.''
Six years later, Mickelson returns to Pinehurst still looking for his first Open win. This time he's more prepared, having spent several days working on his short game around the tricky domed greens on No. 2 and trying to keep his driver under control for the tight fairways.
He's no longer the best player never to win a major -- his Masters win last year eliminated that tag -- but Mickelson is eager to win a bunch more. He came close two more times last year, and credits his improved play to coming prepared with a game plan.
``That's been exciting for me because my performance in the majors has improved dramatically,'' he said. ``My consistency in the majors has improved.''
Mickelson is now the father of three, and he knows there wouldn't be a better Father's Day present than to be able to celebrate with his family while holding the Open trophy.
Amanda, who turns 6 next week, could celebrate with her dad just like she did at the Masters last year when Mickelson held her in his arms and said:
``Daddy won! Can you believe it?''