Phil Mickelson's Sunday Collapse at Merion: A Live Perspective at the US Open

Zack Lessner@@ZLess1995Correspondent IIMarch 9, 2017

The words from U2’s lead singer Bono rang true as I sprang out of bed as my alarm played “Beautiful Day.” Despite the 4:45 a.m. wake-up call, Father’s Day Sunday started out with optimism that on his birthday, Phil Mickelson could finally capture his first U.S. Open title after finishing as runner-up five times.

As a marshal at the U.S. Open, I volunteered to help work on the par-five second hole at Merion Golf Club with about 120 other members from the DuPont Country Club during the championship week. My shift assignments were scheduled for the afternoons on Tuesday and Saturday and then for the entirety of Sunday. 

While on duty, I was faced with many straightforward tasks with the goal of keeping a steady pace for the players. I shifted around jobs and helped keep track of drives from the tee box, opened and closed ropes for spectators to pass through, and marked balls hit in the heavy rough for the players to later come up and find. With my easily identifiable striped marshal polo, I had to field a barrage of spectator questions ranging from the ever popular “Where is Tiger at?” to “How do I get to Hole 5 without missing Rory drive off of 3?”   

During the practice round on Tuesday, I got to see Woods take drives from the tee box and Mcllroy take multiple shots from the fairway. On Saturday I got up-close views of Bubba Watson putting and also followed Phil Mickelson around for a while as he shot even on the day.  

While regular spectators were not allowed to bring cameras or phones inside the course at Merion, marshals were exempt from the rule. As the youngest marshal by two generations, I was able to capture priceless pictures and videos throughout my three days at the Open that only the media would have otherwise had access to.

As I traveled with my grandfather, who was also my hole captain, on the bus Sunday morning from PPL Park to Merion Golf Club, there was a buzz in the air that history would be made today. After arriving at the course, there was time to kill before the 8:44 a.m. starting tee time. I ventured over to the 18th hole’s grandstand, only to be amazed that it was halfway full despite the fact that the spectators would see no action for at least five hours.

The morning shift wasn’t too crowded since the golfers playing at the time had virtually no shot at winning. Once my grandmother showed up for her duty as hole captain in the afternoon, the crowd had picked up considerably.

By the time Tiger was coming through our hole, I was monitoring the second landing area closer to the green. Hoping that Tiger might turn one in the rough for me to mark, I did not gain my five seconds of TV fame as he hit his fifth shot from the fairway onto the green. A three-putt combined with his drive landing out of bounds, Tiger walked off the second hole with a triple bogey all but summing up his frustrating weekend.

Besides marking Rory’s playing partner Morten Orum Madsen’s ball in the rough, my other highlight involved Steve Stricker’s disastrous hole which all but eliminated him from the tournament. After Stricker drove his provisional ball into the fairway, he took out an iron to play the rest of the hole safe.  Without time to think, I was running after the ball Stricker shanked to the right near the fence. In a few frantic moments in which no official could find the ball, I spotted it wedged in between a tree and the fence. Stricker approached the ball and deemed it unplayable, and had to take his second drop of the hole.

The final group of the day came at around 3:45, with both Mickelson and Mahan hitting beautiful drives in the fairway right in front of my eyes. With the pin placed forward, Mickelson decided to go for the green in two shots, but a groan was heard among the crowd as he pulled the wood into the right sand trap. After a skilled chip shot landed Phil within five feet of the cup, he started his theme for the day by missing the makeable birdie and settling for par.

As this was the final group to come through my hole, marshals were shortly released from their duties. Talking it over with my grandparents, we agreed that they would go home to watch the finale of the tournament on television while I would stay at the course. After heading to the restroom and getting something to eat, I walked across the street to where my day had begun at Merion:  The 18th green’s grandstand.

Approaching the grandstand, I soon realized that with at least 40 people in line in front of me, it might take a while for seats to open up. With my view entirely blocked, I continued to follow the tournament’s progression with the free radios that had been provided, along with continuously refreshing the scoreboard on my phone.

When it looked as if I might never get a seat, the weather, which had proved to be an obstacle all week, granted me a favor. A quick and heavy rainfall sent many fans running for cover, and in turn quickened the movement of the line to get in. After at least 90 minutes of waiting, I was finally able to land a seat at a top bleacher.

Even though seven groups had yet to approach 18’s green, fans in the stands had their ears glued to their radios, in which they hoped to get an update on Phil Mickelson. As the rain continued to fall and contenders such as Ricky Fowler, Michael Kim, and Jason Day were having problems with the glass-quick green, the focus of the fans was directed at Mickelson’s score.

With three groups to go and Mickelson one stroke behind, a roar of the adjacent grandstand indicated that leader Justin Rose had hit a tremendous tee shot into the fairway. After a just-as-tremendous second shot that landed Rose at the bottom of the green in the fringe, the Englishman whipped out a hybrid and prepared to secure his lead. Rose rolled a brilliant shot inches left of the hole, and after the tap in he received a polite ovation from the crowd.

Mickelson missed birdie opportunities on both 16 and 17, forcing him to birdie 18 in order to square off in an 18 hole playoff on Monday with Rose. He had already birdied 18 on Friday, giving the spectators hope that he could pull it off again. With binoculars in hand, the crowd watched in horror as Phil pushed his tee shot left into trees, giving him little opportunity to reach the green with his next shot. A gutsy second shot by Phil landed him right in front of the green with about 30 yards to the cup.

With no other groups behind this last one, fans watching from every other area rushed into the fairway, rough, and even trees to witness Phil attempt history. After looking at every angle possible, Lefty grabbed a wedge out and took his last important swing of the day. A hush in the crowd was quickly met by screams of “Get in the hole!”, but the storybook finish fell short as the ball rolled just right of the hole and down the green.

A double bogey from Mickelson handed him his sixth U.S. Open silver, while Justin Rose came out of the clubhouse as the first Major winner from England since Nick Faldo’s win at the Masters in 1996. After the final ceremony on the green, I headed back to Gate Two feeling good for Justin Rose winning his first major.

On my walk to the exit, I ran into another volunteer who I had chatted with on the bus ride up on Saturday. As we discussed the exciting tournament we had just experienced, we agreed that on his 43rd birthday, family man Phil Mickelson sadly blew his opportunity to celebrate Father’s Day with a U.S. Open win.