‘Incredible’: Mickelson’s aim to bring home the US Open championship off to emotional start

By Tim Reynolds, AP
Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lefty’s US Open quest charged with emotion

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Phil Mickelson was walking toward the 11th tee late Friday evening, his 29th and final hole of the day, when he looked at the wooden scoreboard bearing the names of his group.

Goosen. Els. Mickelson.

His, though, was different. Next to his name, fitting perfectly between the slots holding the letters, was a pink ribbon with the words “Find the Cure” written on one side — the tribute to breast cancer patients everywhere.

“I just figured we should show our support to Phil and Amy,” said Bob Lamb, the volunteer captain who came up with the idea.

For 9½ hours of play Friday at the rain-delayed U.S. Open, Mickelson found sanctuary and support in the game where he’s ranked ahead of all but one person in the world. Shows of support for his wife — Amy Mickelson was diagnosed with breast cancer last month — and family were everywhere.

It was an outpouring that Mickelson described as “incredible.”

“I certainly felt it,” Mickelson said after finishing 1 under for the day, five shots behind overnight leader Lucas Glover. “It was very cool.”

When play was suspended at 8:24 p.m., Mickelson had a bit of a walk from the 11th green back to the ninth fairway, where a van awaited to bring him back to the clubhouse.

He passed two young girls with pink caps, and stopped instantly.

“Give me those two girls’ hats,” Mickelson said, pulling out a marker and scrawling his name. “Make sure they get them back.”

He signed those and about two dozen more items, many of them for children, before finally catching his ride off the course — which, by then, was pitch black.

His play wasn’t perfect, not even close.

The driving was erratic, he missed some short putts — an affliction that’s cost him plenty in past majors — on the back nine, and he clearly wasted some chances.

But he survived. He finished the opening 18 tied for seventh and was still tied for 12th, five strokes back, when darkness fell.

“The soft conditions are great,” Mickelson said. “The balls that hit the fairways are staying in the fairways. … The soft conditions are helping.”

So were the fans.

Here’s how eager the gallery was to get behind the world’s No. 2 player: The order of play in the 11:06 a.m. group off the 10th tee started with Retief Goosen, followed by Ernie Els and then Mickelson.

Goosen swung away, getting polite applause.

Els, like Goosen a two-time Open champion, swung next, but the throngs of ticketholders all but deemed his presence irrelevant.

By the time Els’ tee ball landed, the shrieks and bellows — “C’mon, Phil!” — were cutting through the air.

Mickelson nodded, the woman with the white “I (heart) Phil” T-shirt squealed in delight, and Bethpage’s adopted son was ready to play. He hitched up his pants, tipped his cap, took a couple of practice swings and began a six-hour quest to tame both the Black course and any thoughts of what lies ahead for his wife and family.

“They’ve treated us so good here,” Mickelson said.

The way those fans tell it, he’s treated them just as well.

He interacted with them often Friday, tipping his cap to one who yelled “Driver!” when he and caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay were contemplating what to hit on the sixth hole of the second round. Mickelson pulled out the driver, crushed one down a hill and out of sight, and made an easy birdie.

Fans reached out to him, literally, and he reached back, tapping fists with several on his way to the 10th hole.

“I think he’s a great player. I think he deserves the attention, especially in New York,” said Joe Vesey, 36, a marketing professional who lives just north of New York City. “He loves the fans. That’s why they love him. Phil reacts to fans. Phil feeds off fan power. He understands New York.”

Vesey got his fist bump, too.

“Go get ‘em, Phil!” he shouted.

This week — well, this U.S. Open may stretch into next week as well — will be his final on tour for a while. He expects to miss the British Open because his wife begins treatments on July 1.

Bethpage’s fans loved him in 2002. They’re loving him again now, albeit for deeper reasons this time around.

“I just love playing golf here,” Mickelson said. “I love coming up to this area. I think all sports teams love playing in front of these people here. They are some of the best sports fans in the country.”

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