Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002.
ARDMORE, Pa. - What is it they say: Something that seems too good to be true probably is? Fate and the U.S. Open would seem to buy that, and for a sixth time, so does Phil Mickelson.
It seemed a perfect setup: Mickelson's 43rd birthday, a special Father's Day for a father who flew across the country to hear his daughter's eighth-grade graduation speech Wednesday, a dramatic putt at dusk Friday. All of it was building up to a Disney movie ending, with Mickelson finally winning the U.S. Open after finishing second five times.
But the Open does not subscribe to Variety. There is no stardust in that dense rough. You have to make your own magic, which Mickelson did for only one shot, a pitch for eagle on No. 10. The thing is, no script ends on the 10th hole. Mickelson made some mistakes down the stretch, and what did he come out of yet another U.S. Open with?
"Heartbreak," he said.
"This is tough to swallow after coming so close. This was my best chance of all of them," he said. "This one's probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed the way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record. Except I just keep feeling heartbreak."
Fact is, he lost to Justin Rose and Merion Golf Club, both very worthy victors with their own interesting tales. It was obvious, though, that Mickelson was the pronounced sentimental favorite. Rose told the crowd at his victory ceremony that the man who tied for second "deserves a shout-out" for his demonstration of fatherhood this week. Hunter Mahan, one of Mickelson's closest friends on tour, who was paired with Phil in the final group, said, "I heard [the song] 'Happy Birthday' probably 18 times today."
Knowing that Mickelson needed to chip in for a birdie on No. 18 to force a playoff, the crowd chanted "Let's go, Phil!" as he surveyed his shot. It's hard to recall anything like that ever happening on the final tense hole of a major championship.
The loudest ovation occurred when he took the lead by nailing a 75-yard shot out of the rough on No. 10. A rational person would have assumed that the tournament was Phil's for the taking.
Except Mickelson denies rationale in the Open. He ditched his driver this week so he could carry a handful of wedges in his bag. Then on the par-3 13th, the easiest hole on the course, he chose the wrong one. He hit over the green, made bogey and lost his momentum. He admitted that he hit another poor wedge shot from 121 yards on No. 15. Thus, more heartbreak.
It is not that people feel sorry for Mickelson, who does have four majors and has a nice life that includes wherewithal to charter a private jet. It is more a matter that folks identify with the struggle of trying to land that great white whale. "He waited a long time for his first major and then he continued to win," said Adam Scott, who ended his own drought at the Masters this year. "And golf is just a lifelong test. He's certainly proof of that."
This peanut stand offers a tip of the cap to Merion, which required only that a golfer shoot par Sunday, and Rose was the one who did. The week was a huge victory for classic courses, such as Shinnecock Hills. With the right setup (meaning thick, deep rough), the old venues still can be major stars.
And applause for Rose, which Mickelson gave repeatedly on the course during the Ryder Cup last fall when the Englishman made huge putts to beat him in a pivotal match. Rose on Sunday pointed skyward, with tears in his eyes, acknowledging his late father.
So Merion and Rose weren't perfect stories like the one that seemed headed directly to Hollywood on Sunday. But with all due respect to Mickelson, they were pretty darned good.