You gotta love Lefty.
He hits driver when he shouldn’t and he clips 6-irons off pine straw and hits flop shots when a lesser man would bump and run, then addresses his swashbuckler decisions with the frank conceit of a real-life Jack Sparrow. But then, part of the attraction to Phil Mickelson is his shameless vanity.
He hasn’t won since 2013, but he’s managed to become relevant right now. He announced Saturday that he plans to skip the U.S. Open next week to attend his daughter’s graduation. She will give the commencement speech at the Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, Calif., on June 15, first day of the tournament, which will be held at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. There’s no way Mickelson could attend the ceremony then make even the latest tee time.
Whether you applaud him for his family devotion or criticize him for shirking work, this is a strange decision. Imagine Arnold Palmer's skipping a Masters or Magic Johnson's missing a playoff game. This being 2017, and given the USGA’s accommodating nature when it comes to Phil, Mickelson most likely could watch the ceremony in real time and interact with Amanda and his family after the speech.
Both Amanda and Mickelson’s wife, Amy, have given Dad a pass. They know how much he craves winning a U.S. Open, having finished second a record six times. He has won the other three majors, so a win at Erin Hills would make him the sixth golfer to complete a career grand slam.
But Phil isn’t using the pass. Instead, he hoped his influence might get the graduation date moved.
He told the New York Times that he would miss the Open “barring something unforeseen.” He then said that meant he wouldn’t pull out until a day or two before the tournament in case the tournament was likely to be delayed by weather … or in case Amanda’s school moved the ceremony.
To be clear, Phil said he wouldn’t ask the school to move the ceremony, but he acknowledged he was holding out hope the other families wouldn’t mind changing their schedules so he wouldn't have to miss work. Derek Deminsky, a teaching pro in Tucson, Ariz., even began an online petition begging the school to “Change the Date!”
The school released a terse statement that indicated it would not, under any circumstances, change its schedule.
Mickelson’s devotion to family has precedent. He famously flew home from Merion in 2013 to attend Amanda’s eighth-grade commencement the day before the tournament started, then returned just two hours before his first-round tee time. He finished second at Merion.
Phil is saying it’s all about family, but it would be naive to ignore other factors that might have influenced his decision. Erin Hills was awarded the Open in 2010, and Mickelson has never seen the course. Last week, before he revealed his decision to miss the Open entirely, he said he didn’t plan on even visiting the course until practice rounds began the week of the tournament. This is shocking, since Mickelson is a meticulous strategist who craves course knowledge, but no amount of knowledge can compensate for eroding skills.
Merion’s short, quirky layout suited Mickelson’s genius, imagination and nerve, which helped him outpace most of the field in 2013. However, on more typical U.S. Open tracks, Lefty has lagged lately: 54th in 2011, 65th in 2012, 28th in 2014, 64th in 2015. Last year, he missed the cut.
Hale Irwin was 45 when he won the U.S. Open in 1990, which predates the dominance of youth on the PGA Tour.
Mickelson will turn 47 on the day Amanda graduates. It is wonderful that he will attend the ceremony, but he also has had just one top-10 finish in his 12 stroke-play tournaments since October.
Maybe if he was playing better, this would be a tougher decision.
Maybe he figures he just can’t win.