Ardmore, Pa. - When he finished his first round, Phil Mickelson probably wished the U.S. Open was an 18-hole tournament because, at that point, he was leading. If he holds on through Sunday, then Merion Golf Club will do what it should: deliver a quality winner.
Some golf courses, like The Olympic Club in San Francisco, deliver surprise champions. Every time. Taking nothing away from Jack Fleck, but he was not supposed to beat Ben Hogan. Billy Casper was not supposed to beat Arnold Palmer. Lee Janzen was not expected to finish ahead of Tom Watson. And yet all those things happened there.
Merion Golf Club is different. It produces champions who have already been in the headlines.
When David Graham won here in 1981, he had already won the PGA Championship in the summer of 1979. When Lee Trevino won the U.S. Open at Merion, he had already won the U.S. Open, and he went on to win four more majors. When Olin Dutra won the U.S. Open at Merion in 1934, he had already won the PGA Championship two years earlier.
Ben Hogan famously had his comeback from the auto accident at Merion GC in 1950 and proceeded to win in a playoff. However, he had already collected three majors.
Even in 1916, when Chick Evans won the U.S. Amateur, he was known as a quality player. Earlier that season, he had captured the U.S. Open, one of few amateurs to accomplish that feat.
And of course, Bobby Jones, as most know by now, finished the final event in his Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club, thereby cementing the course in the history of American golf.
So, while it is too early to tell if Phil Mickelson will be victorious, he’s certainly off to a good start, particularly considering he attended his oldest daughter’s eighth-grade graduation on Wednesday and then teed it up at 7 a.m. Thursday. He said he slept a couple hours on the plane, an hour before coming to the course and an hour during the rain delay.
While much was made of his trip, he said it was not unusual. “I do this about six, 10 times a year where I fly back east red eye, play some outing and then come home.” Of course, he added, this wasn’t an outing.
He said his tournament prep was all done when he was here 10 days 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,” he said. He used his time in the air wisely, reviewing his early visit to the course and planning how he would play each hole.
“It gave me a great few hours to study my notes and get mentally prepared,” he added.
At least in California, he had a chance to practice a day or two in good weather, something that was a problem for many in the field. In addition, leaving the site of tournaments on Wednesday is something Mickelson likes to do, particularly at majors.
“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,” he explained.
“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,” he added.
As Mickelson left the golf course, Tiger Woods prepared to tee off. Woods will not conclude his first round today because of the three-hour weather delay in the morning.
Quotes of the day:
“A bunch of plugged lies. Had a lie around the green that I hit backwards. Had a lie around the green that I hit backwards.”—Keegan Bradley, characterizing his round.
“Sit and play games on your iPhone. Pretty good at Angry Birds.”—Charles Schwartzel’s rain-delay activity.
“You saw where they put the pins, didn't you? Every single one of them was in the back. You can't get to them on soft greens.”—Jerry Kelly on the course setup.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.