ARDMORE, Pa. – Given that she’s eight days shy of her 14th birthday and has never swung a club professionally, Amanda Mickelson wouldn’t figure to be part of U.S. Open folklore.
But she is.
Remarkable stuff? Even more so is this: the first time, she hadn’t yet been born.
The legend of Amanda Mickelson and the U.S. Open expanded a bit this week at Merion Golf Club. Her father committed to a home run that had nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with family ties.
Knowing his daughter's graduation from eighth grade was scheduled June 12, the day before this championship would start, Mickelson weeks ago decided that he would fly home to California to attend, then fly back east for his first-round tee time.
Come on, admit it. You thought he was nuts. But there he went late Monday, jetting back to California, figuring he'd get more work done at home in the sun than he would here in the rain. And there he was Wednesday, up in Carlsbad, at Amanda's school ceremony. And there he was Thursday morning at about 4:30, wiping sleep from his eyes upon his return to Philadelphia. By 5:30, Mickelson was at Merion. By 7:11, he was striping an iron into the fairway at his first hole, the par-4 11th.
OK, he three-putted for bogey, but it would in no way set the tone for the day. In fact, it was the only lowlight as Mickelson proved that family and golf do mix – even if it's major-championship golf. Playing his next 17 holes near flawlessly – wrapped around a weather delay of 3 hours, 32 minutes, at that – Mickelson shot 3-under 67 and helped write a U.S. Open chapter that once again included mention of daughter Amanda.
Remember 1999? Mickelson, then 29 and majorless, was in contention to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Only thing was, he vowed that if wife Amy went into labor, he would withdraw. He carried a pager, and that is the storyline that dominated that week. As fate would have it, Mickelson lost at the 72nd hole, thwarted by Payne Stewart's heroics.
Unforgettably, Stewart embraced Mickelson and said, "You are going to be a father."
Memorably, Mickelson was with Amy when she delivered the couple's first child the next day.
Tragically, Stewart was dead four months later, the victim of a horrible jet incident.
Talk about your circle of life. Here is Mickelson 14 years later, still pursuing a first U.S. Open championship, but not until he respects the life and achievements of Amanda, who will turn 14 on June 21.
If he was pleased by birdies at Nos. 13, 1, 7, and 9 to shoot his lowest opening-round score in a U.S. Open since 1999 (there we go with the circle-of-life thing), Mickelson beamed a brighter smile when talking about his daughter. "She did a great job (with her speech)," he said. "I am so proud of her. She even quoted Ron Burgundy."
Thrilled to have hit 11 fairways and 14 greens, he felt his game plan to go without a driver and add a fifth wedge was validated. He figured a 64-degree wedge "could allow me to save a shot or two, and I'd rather have that than an extra 20 yards."
The 30-footer he slam-dunked at No. 1, his ninth hole of the day, got him to 1 under. But the par saves at the demanding Nos. 5 and 6 ignited his spirits.
At the fifth, Mickelson pushed his drive right and was fortunate that his ball stayed in the rough on the slope of an embankment rather than go into the water. He punched onto the fairway, wedged to 12 feet and made that. From a greenside bunker at the par-4 sixth, Mickelson blasted to 8 feet and made that, too.
"In the U.S. Open, par saves are as big, if not bigger, than birdies," he said.
Riding that momentum, he birdied the par-4 seventh, then added his second birdie on a par 3, the ninth, to sweeten an already splendid day. He conceded, though, that he "hit a wall" on the ninth, his 17th hole. Caddie Jim Mackay helped Mickelson take a break – "tune in and tune out," the left-hander said – and a safe par at the short but dangerous 301-yard, par-4 10th put Mickelson in position to call it a long but highly successful day.
He offered details – that his daughter's graduation had ended at 6 p.m. Wednesday, that he left in the plane at 8 local time, landing in Philadelphia about 3:30 a.m. Grabbing an hour of sleep, Mickelson then headed for the golf course. During the lengthy delay, he was able to sleep one more hour, and by around 4:15 p.m. the day was done.
"I'm fine. It shouldn't be a problem," he said. While he confirmed that he does this thing a lot for one-day corporate commitments, he wasn't advocating it. "It might be abnormal."
So, with his day done and his second-round tee time most likely very late Friday, would he jet back to California to sleep Thursday night? Mickelson smiled. "That might be pushing it," he said.