Mikkelson Runner-Up Is An Old Story

Published on: 22nd June, 2009


Phil Falls Short Again

Masters defending champion Phil Mickelson, left, talks with Jay Haas, right, on the putting green during practice at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Wednesday, April 6, 2005. First round play of the 2005 Masters begins Thursday. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)  | read this item
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The U.S. Open had been gone barely half an hour. Somewhere, someone else was holding the silver trophy — the one his wife had asked him to bring home, so she could have it in her hospital room.

No more golf this day for Phil Mickelson. Or tomorrow, or nobody knows when. Down the road, outside the Bethpage gates, the doctors and real life wait.

“Kind of an emotional five days,” he said. “Certainly I’m disappointed, but now that it’s over, I’ve got more important things going on.”

You can still count his second places in the U.S. Open on one hand, but just barely. Monday made five. He shared the lead, and then he didn’t. If you follow this sport, that might sound familiar.

“Maybe it’s more in perspective for me, because I feel different this time,” he said, and we all can understand why. Amy’s breast cancer treatments begin in nine days.



Know what this U.S. Open produced, besides muddy shoes? A classic runner-up story. Three of them, actually, because David Duval or Ricky Barnes made heartening runs, too, one of them forgotten and ranked No. 882 in the world, the other never known and ranked No. 526.

Nothing personal against Lucas Glover. He seems like a fine man and golfer. He put on a steely display Monday, getting his one birdie just when he needed it.

But fate had some pretty good other options on the menu, and you wouldn’t need a Gallup poll to know the most popular.

It could have been Mickelson. For true fairy-tale status, it should have been Mickelson. Not a soul on the planet — outside the Glover household, anyway — would have argued with that result.

The crowd at Bethpage was enraptured by the idea, after a week of slapping his hands and exchanging thumb’s-up signals. “Let’s go Phil!” was the Monday chant, and when the news broke at No. 18 that Glover had retaken the lead, there was the kind of New York groan from the stands that you would expect to hear on a Red Sox homer.

An eagle on No. 14 pushed Mickelson to the top of the leaderboard. Bogeys on Nos. 15 and 17 brought him back down. In normal times, his missed par putts on those holes would be dissected, his game studied for cracks, his strategy inspected for flaws. Same old Mickelson, coming close again.

Not this time. This near-miss is not about a golfer who lost another championship, but a man rushing home to take his family on a vacation, before the hard days begin.

“It’s not that I need a vacation,” he said. “It’s just that we’re not going to have a chance the next couple of months. And so, yeah, as a family, we need it.”

He was asked his emotions Monday. That’s when you could tell.

“A lot of ups and downs,” he said. “And now that we’re going to get started here in about 10 days, I think that once we get going it might be a little easier. The wait has been difficult.

“But, you know, I don’t really know where to go with that.”

The connections between pro and public here were rare in that they went way beyond awe of celebrity. Duval, lost in the golf wilderness for years, sensed what he was hearing.

“It’s a lot easier for people to relate to someone who’s getting beat up all the time than a Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or LeBron James,” he said. “The game has certainly done that to me. Maybe that’s why people understand me.”

In Mickelson’s case — rich and famous and with a lovely family — it seemed like his life was one big wad of winning lottery tickets. Then the diagnosis came in on Amy.

“I want to win this tournament badly,” he said, and the masses of Bethpage tried to will it for him.

Didn’t quite happen. Leaving the No. 18 green Monday, with all hope nearly gone, he walked through a line of fans screaming his name. He also had to walk past a USGA official who was standing alone — and holding that silver trophy, waiting for Lucas Glover.

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