By Bill Campbell
Phil Mickelson & the U.S. Open at Merion
What sets Phil Mickelson apart from the other formidable stars in the ultra-competitive world of professional sports? For one, his devotion to his wife and kids, who appear on a lot of manicured greens whenever Phil is in contention for a win. You’d be surprised how that quality stands out with even greater significance as the years keep rolling along.
You see, Mickleson flew home to San Diego last Wednesday to hear his daughter make an address at her eighth grade graduation at 6 p.m. and then turned around at 8 p.m. to fly back to Pennsylvania to tee off at Merion the next morning. It was more important to him to hear his daughter’s speech, which he had read and knew she had worked hard on, and to be on hand to hear her deliver it. More important than the start of the U.S. Open. This guy is a real father and the world recognizes that quality in Phil ahead of its acknowledgement that he also is an incredible golfer. If a star in the NFL or MLB did this it would be on the front pages. But instead, because of the kind of guy we know him to be, those who heard or read about it readily accepted that Phil Mickelson did that. That’s the kind of guy we know him to be.
The sports headlines this year have contained more than their share of stories about athletes being chased, arrested, jailed, and even engaged in intra-family squabbles over their possessions and memorabilia. Generally exhibiting the worst of behaviors and setting the worst of examples. But Phil Mickelson? Never. His inherent character is the reason you hear all those “Go get ‘em, Phil” at every course where he competes. I this it’s also the reason why Mickelson is rarely seen without a genuine smile, one that often runs from ear to ear. It’s the smile of a man at peace with himself, a man who’s proud of what he does and who just has that intangible thing: class. Before teeing off last Thursday, the man had finished second in the U.S. Open five times. Golf enthusiasts throughout the world wanted to see him win.
When the first round of the tournament was done last week around 8:16 p.m. a large group of media gathered around Mickelson at the 18th green, hoping they were in on his road to finally winning the Open. It would have made for a marvelous tale, rightfully belonging to a genuinely good guy. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.
In this 113th U.S. Open at Merion East, Mickelson concluded the first half of the event sharing the lead with third year pro, Billy Horschel, who hit all 18 greens and fired a 67. Mickelson spent the entire back 9, which is treacherous, looking for one birdie to tie for the lead. He got it in the most unlikely place: the brutal 18th where he had to make a 20-foot putt in twilight on a hole that measured 501 yards. As the ball sank into the hole, hearts in the sizeable gallery resumed beating.
Unfortunately, his luck didn’t hold out and Justin Rose took the prize on Sunday. In all fairness, Phil Mickelson can never say that he didn’t have his chances at Merion. As he said himself, his ball-striking and putting were better than ever. But he drove off the first tee into the rough and missed a crucial chance for a birdie on 17. Justin Rose prevailed when the tournament’s most crucial shots had to be made and Mickelson finished second, tied with Jason Day, for the sixth time in his career.
The thing is, sensing the kind of guy he is, Phil Mickelson surely flew back home to California still a happy man. He’d played a great tournament – and he hadn’t missed his daughter’s speech. He’s a class act and I hope to see him win a big one soon.
While the glamour threesome composed of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott pulled in quite a gallery, it was 32-year-old Brit, Justin Rose, who won the U.S. Open on Father’s Day. He joined David Graham (1979), Lee Trevino (1971), Ben Hogan (1950) and Olin Dutra (1934) as history’s Open winners at the Merion Golf Club. The win was Rose’s first major tournament triumph. His intense practice and preparation, which he learned from his own father, paid off. He made 2 pars on the last 2 holes and, when Mickelson missed his birdie pitch on 17, Rose was poised to win. When he finished his round, Rose raised his hand to the skies, clutching his golf ball, and let a few tears trickle down his cheek. He admitted later that he was thinking of his father who had coached him since he was a kid and who had died in 2002. What a day it would have been if his dad had been there. Rose is the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970, ending a long drought for the Brits.
Billy Horschel is 26 years old. It really should have been a great shock that he was tied for the lead at the halfway point of the U.S. Open. In the second round, he hit 18 of 18 greens becoming the first U.S. Open golfer to do so since the USGA began keeping that stat in 1992. So it wasn’t an accident that he was sharing the lead with Phil Mickelson. Horschel said, “It’s a cool thing but it’s not the first time I’ve hit all 18 greens. I’ve done it plenty of times in my career but, obviously, not in the U.S. Open.” This is only his second Open. He missed the cut in 2006. But he turned in 4 birdies the other day. Horschel is a 3-time All American from the University of Florida and played a practice round last week with Tiger Woods and Rory Mc Ilroy, bringing no embarrassment to the threesome. As for his comments on the course at Merion East, he not4ed, “This golf course is still soft because of all the rain, but it’s a tough golf course.” He went on to say, “I don’t get nervous. I see the shot and go. I saw the shot and went with it but I was still a bit nervous for a lot of them.” If Horschel was uneasy it didn’t show to the fans. He started the back 9 in the second round with back-to-back birdies and another on 18 just as Mickelson had done. He called the test at Merion, “just another tournament” adding, “I know it’s a big event. But one thing my sports psychologist and I have worked on together is don’t worry about anybody else. I just focus on what I do. Don’t worry about the crowd noise. Don’t concern yourself with what your playing partners are doing. Just focus on what I’m trying to do.” Probably easier said than done.
Two-time U.S. Open champion, Bill Casper (1959, 1966), was about to give a talk at a golf dinner at Merion last week when he was handed a note which read, “Your former caddie is outside.” Casper Okayed the admittance. His former caddie is now Rev. James Sherlock, for many years the pastor of St. Coleman’s Church in Ardmore, which is just a shout from Merion East. He had caddied for Casper in the 1958 PGA Tournament at Llanerch Country Club out on West Chester Pike while on summer break from the seminary and he was hoping to see his old boss. The pair spent a good time remembering the game of almost 60 years ago and talked about how it has changed. Fr. Sherlock was amused when Casper told him, “I’m in the same field as you now. I’m a Mormon preacher.” He remembers Billy Casper as a great putter, which he was. Casper described golf as a good sport for priests saying, “We need healthy priests and this game calls for patience.” A nice way for two old friends to meet.
Charlie and Cliff
It’s mid-June and while the Phillies have improved a bit many kinks remain – enough to make Manager Charlie Manuel’s recent lengthy locker room speech interesting. Last week he said, “These guys signed here because they wanted to be here, that is was a good place to come to for a chance to win. I think when I hear Cliff Lee about wanting to play for a winner, no one in baseball wants to win more than I do. For us to win, we have to get better, improve. How we do that is another story. But at the same time, we have to play a lot better baseball than we have.”
What did Lee really say? He was asked last Thursday whether he wanted to stay in Philadelphia if the season did not improve. He answered, “I definitely want to win. There’s no doubt about that.” But he failed to answer the question so he was asked again. And Lee repeated. “I want to win. I don’t know how else to say it better than I want to win.” Once more he was asked whether he was prepared to play out the string for a team not in contention and Lee replied, “I don’t have any control over that.
I know I want to win and I will voice that to whoever asks and that’s that. I want to win here. That’s why I agreed to come back here. And that’s where my focus is.” General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. was asked a similar question in a telephone query but did not return that call to comment. He did say to ESPN.com, “I don’t see what the benefit would be to our organization to trade these players. They are players we’ve got who can help us win and we’re better off with them than without them.” The record may differ with Amaro.
A Detroit scout attended the Phillies game in Colorado the other day while Charley Kerfeld, special assistant to GM Amaro, went off to watch the Tigers. No significance was attributed to it but Detroit is in desperate need of a closer and Jonathan Papelbon’s name has been mentioned. In fact, a lot of Phillies’ names have been in the rumor mill lately – Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and a few others. We should hear them and perhaps a few others between now and the trade deadline in late July. There is no doubt that one of baseball’s most expensive payrolls has underachieved for a second straight season right here in Philadelphia. So stay tuned.
The Phillies gave up 5 runs and 18 hits in losing to Colorado 10- 5 one night last week. Jonathan Pettibone threw 180 pitches to record 24 outs but lost their 15th games out of 69 by 5 or more runs – more than all of last season. This best describes a team that is mired in mediocrity. Is anyone going to call for some answers at some point?
The Phils completed their most recent road trip 3-7 and made a 10-game loser out of Cole Hamels. He becomes the first Phillies pitcher since 1992 with 10 losses before the All Star break. The last guy to run up that stat was Kyle Abbott. The Phillies didn’t score until there were 2 out in the 9th as their offensive problems continued. It was a sorry trip in every way.
Against Kansas City last week, Tampa Bay pitcher Alex Cobb was hit by a line drive and taken off the field on a stretcher to a hospital in St. Petersburg. He could be seen kicking his legs while being examined as stunned silence overtook the crowd at Tropicana Field. Later, the Rays announced that the 25-year-old pitcher remained conscious after having been struck on the right ear. This all happened just a month after Toronto’s A.J. Happ, a former Phil, was hit by a liner. Apparently, he’s doing OK. Since two pitchers have been peeled off by line drives in the last month, Major League Baseball is considering special protective equipment for pitchers, including helmets. Uncharacteristically, the MLB is actually thinking about the pitchers. They’d better before someone gets killed. I’ve been around this game as a broadcaster and fan all my life and I find it hard to believe that it hasn’t happened yet.
I also note that Miami catcher Miguel Olivo has left his team without permission, walking out after batting practice without a word to his manager or team mates. Manager Mike Redmond said he’d never been involved in such a situation and noted that when a team relies upon a player, his unexplained departure leaves that team in shock. Olivo has been placed on the restricted list by the Marlins – and rightly so.