The most astounding story to come out of this 2013 U.S. Open at Merion is Phil Mickelson’s cross-continental jaunt from Philadelphia to San Diego and back again in order to be there for his daughter, Amanda’s, 8th-grade graduation. Not only was she graduating, she was going to be one of the speakers:
Four kids spoke and she was one that was chosen. Really proud of her. She did a great job and she even quoted Ron Burgundy, so it was funny. And I was really glad I was there. Ceremony was at 6:00. I got on the plane at 8:00, landed 3:30. Had a few hours sleep. We had a rain delay here, so I went and slept for an hour. I feel great.
So this is not that out of the ordinary; I do this about six, ten times a year where I fly back East red eye, play some outing and then come home. So it’s not out of the ordinary.
A contributing factor to all of this was that the weekend and Monday weather at Merion precluded quality practice. The course was closed Saturday after 5½ inches of rain late in the week and then it rained again on Monday:
Yeah, it might be abnormal, but it actually worked out really well. I got all my work done on Merion when I was here a week and a half ago. I knew exactly how I wanted to play the golf course, given the conditions, given different wind conditions, clubs I was going to be hitting, where I was going to be and the shots that I was going to have.
So I didn’t feel I needed more time at Merion, what I needed was to get my game sharp, to get my touch sharp. And having a nice practice facility and nice weather for the last couple of days in San Diego allowed me to do that. So it worked out great on both ends.
Now it helps that he has his own Gulfstream V at his beck and call. This is not something you can easily do flying commercial.
But even so, it was a long day and by the 9th hole, his 17th, he’d hit the wall. (Because of the idiosyncratic Merion course, players begin their rounds on either #1 or #11):
I told Bones on 9 tee box that I kind of hit a wall. And he said, well, let’s just take a little mental break as we walk down there, and I ended up making the putt. So being able to tune in and tune out was kind of nice the last hole or two.
It’s been a long day because we teed off at 7 and here we are at 4:20 [pm]. So it was a longer day with the suspension and so forth.
But perhaps the biggest piece of this is that he is the leader in the clubhouse at 3-under par 67 with a two-shot lead. Luke Donald is at 4-under, but still has to play five holes in the morning. Because of the two rain delays, play was suspended due to darkness.
But there were a lot of collateral benefits to this exceptional jaunt of his:
I think that mental preparation is every bit as important as physical, and I was able to take the time on the plane to read my notes, study, relive the golf course, go through how I was going to play each hole, where the pins were, where I want to miss it, where I want to be, study the green charts. It gave me a great few hours to study my notes and get mentally prepared.
And not being at Merion Wednesday was not exceptional at all:
I like to play a course elsewhere Wednesday of a Major, as most of you know. It gives me a chance to get a quiet environment, get away from the pressure and anxiety and all that builds up for a desire to win this tournament, whether it’s U.S. Open or any Major.
So I like to go offsite and just kind of have a relaxing day before Thursday’s round. And it was helpful that I had an opportunity to practice in good weather conditions on a good practice facility [at home], get my game sharp.
Yeah, but…he leaves California at 8 pm, touches down in Philly at 3:30 am and arrives back in the area at 5:30 for a 7:11 tee time. Just how much sleep did he get?
A couple hours on the plane, an hour before we teed off and then an hour during the [rain delay]. I feel great.
I’ll just go back tonight and rest, and I’ll have all day tomorrow to rest and it’s fine. It shouldn’t be a problem.
How has this worked out in other tournaments?
I haven’t done it in a tournament. I just do it in the outings. I play okay in the outings, but it’s really not that important.
This is because, more than anything, outings are about establishing a relatedness with the guests. It’s nice to see Phil Mickelson hit some shots and maybe play a round, but wouldn’t you rather just have quality time with him? Having been in his magnetic presence in a number of media sessions, I assure you you would.
And just what did all this mean to Amanda?
She told me that it’s fine. Stay, it’s the U.S. Open, I know how much you care about it.
And I told her that I want to be there. I don’t want to miss that. I don’t want to miss her speech. I don’t want to miss her graduation. She spent nine years at that school. And she’s worked very hard and I’m very proud of her.
Sunday is Father’s Day.