Golf

Mickelson's juggling act pays off

Image: Phil Mickelson (© Julio Cortez/AP Photo)
Phil Mickelson opens with a 3-under-par 67 at Merion Golf Club.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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ARDMORE, PA

If the question is, "What will Phil do next?" what’s the answer?

US Open, Tiger Woods

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I mean, seriously, what IS the answer?

I know I don’t know anymore and I’m pretty sure Phil doesn’t know what he’s going to do next, either.

The guy’s like a spinning plate juggler.

Has anyone who’s ever been any good at golf — and this guy’s ridiculously good at golf — ever free-wheeled like Mickelson?

Does Philly the Mick — a useful name, by the way, around these parts — ever do anything by the book?

I’m not sure what the book says you should do if you’re 42 with the sands of time doing their thing and want to win your first National Open — the tournament you most cherish and the one that’s given you the most heartbreak, having finished runner-up a record five times.

But I’m pretty sure I know what it says you don’t do.

Right after things like "let Lindsay Lohan go through to voicemail," the book would say: don’t fly across the country to watch your daughter graduate from the eighth grade — my wife’s going to kill me for saying this, but is the 8th grade even a real graduation? — and then fly back, arriving in Pennsylvania at almost 4 a.m. when you need to be at Merion for the first round of the US Open about, oh, 90 minutes later.

Now I get that he’s not taking a red eye, stuck in a middle seat in coach between Honey Boo Boo’s aunts. (Those are NOT pillows).

Phil’s got his own Gulfstream jet but it’s still not like, you know, real sleep in a real bed.

So when Phil tees off at 7:11 a.m. and three putts for bogey on his first hole of the day, the Greek chorus was quick to refrain: We told you so, Phil!

But given that no one knows what Phil will do next, he proceeded to not make another bogey on a day when plenty lurked.

He added four birdies and waddyaknow, finished with a three-under-par round of 67 which left him, get this, leading the Open! (That was before Luke Donald went 4-under through 13 holes when play was suspended).

I mean, who writes this stuff?

And then, of course, Phil was at his goofy best after the round, trying to make it all sound so logical.

“This is not that out of the ordinary,” he’d say.

“I do this about six, 10 times a year where I fly back east red eye, play some outing then come home.”

In case your neurons aren’t synapsing, let me point out the bleeding obvious: this isn’t a hit and giggle with a bunch of fat, cigar-chomping Wall Street hackers, it’s the United freakin’ States Open!

But it’s Phil, and aside from golf, his greatest gift is explaining things so they sound plausible.

He does it all the time.

This week, for instance, he doesn’t have a driver in his bag.

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Nope, drivers are for shmucks. He’s too smart to use a driver, so he’s got a three wood that he can hit pretty far and five wedges.

Yep, that’s one for the thumb.

And his daughter, Amanda, was one of the four kids in her class who were speaking and she even threw in a Ron Burgundy quote, so how could he turn that down?

The Ron Burgundy quote?

“We’re kind of a big deal.”

But don’t take that the wrong way, says Phil. It was meant to be self-deprecating.

And it’s not like this is the first time Amanda’s interrupted an Open. Remember back in 1999, when Phil was right there with a chance to win at Pinehurst, but he carried that beeper with him and was ready to leave it all behind if his wife called to say she was going into labor?

That was Amanda, born the day after that Open.

And it’s not like he really needed to be here.

“It actually worked out really well (because) I got all my work done on Merion when I was here a week and a half ago,” he said.

“I knew exactly how I wanted to play the golf course . . . so I feel I didn’t need more time at Merion.

HAIL TO THE VICTORS

Who were all of the 2013 PGA Tour winners?

“I think the mental preparation is every bit as important as the 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.”

That sounds a lot like cramming, and just like a kid who’s pulled an all-nighter before an exam, Phil got tired.

He hit the wall, he said, with two holes to play.

“I might have used just a little caffeine booster at the turn, just to keep me sharp,” he said.

But, as always, no regrets, and why would he have any?

He’ll be back on Friday and may just be leading the Open.

Assuming he makes it back in time from Pyongyang, where he’s scheduled to secure a peace with Kim Jong-un.

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