LA JOLLA, Calif. – You know, with some movie stars, how so different they are from one public appearance to another? Michelle Pfeiffer, for example. You might see her at a store opening in West LA, and she might look like the Southern California Vons cashier she once was. And the next night, she could be on David Letterman in a dress looking everyone like Grace Kelly’s second coming.
Well, Phil is like that too.
Phil Mickelson at the Masters in April, where he barely made the cut, was unlike Phil winning the PGA Championship in May. And that Phil, in the heat of Kiawah and loving the hunt, didn’t look like Phil on Thursday, in the first round of the US Open, here at the South Course by the Torrey Pines oceanfront, down the hill and the road to his house in Rancho Santa Fe.
There was a fog delay which delayed the curtain time by 90 minutes. When you are anxious and anxious to get to the starting grid, it doesn’t help. Then, finally, the game began, Phil in a trio with two other sons from Southern California, Max Homa and Xander Sc Chaudele.
They started out on 10. Mickelson hit a perfect 12-foot putt to save par there. Perfect, except he didn’t come in. He walked faster than at Kiawah. You could see it.
One par on 11 and another on 12. Then, on 13, a monster par-5, a drive in the rough to the right. There were spectators practically above him, cell phones ringing as he played his second shot of the juicy trick. He backed up the shot three times. A work job. He took a drop for his third and did well to make a bogey. He pulled it out on his gum. He chewed it harder than at Kiawah. You could see it.
He turned around at two o’clock.
Now his parents were following him, Mary Mickelson and Phil Sr., who wore a light padded jacket from the U.S. Ryder Cup, from the 2018 event, which took place outside of Paris. Very elegant, but Mr. Mickelson, a retired pilot, does not appear to be a man looking for style points. The parents have lived their entire married life in San Diego.
He’s an elf man, and just as nice as can be. He says he enjoys listening to what fans are saying about his sons, in the plural. Phil is playing and his brother, Tim, is a caddy. In general, says Mickelson, the feedback is very, very positive.
Phil makes one bug out of 6. He walks fast, chews hard. People call out his name and he gives a thumbs up as he does. As it has been doing for decades. It is not as thin as at Kiawah. (He wears his shirts so tight you can see a piece of cake.) He was 50 years old then. Now he is recently 51 years old. He makes another bogey on 7.
His playing partners are still on the green. Phil walks off on his own, standing on a small hill next to the green, yardage book in his right hand, golf glove in his left back pocket, his tailored pants hanging from his socks. He looks into nothingness. He is finally still.
Walking towards the 9th green, he sees a skinny, tanned child with braces on his teeth and a hoodie inked with the distinctive logo of Goat Hill Park, a beloved muni half an hour north, at Oceanside. Phil doesn’t know the kid can shoot on a good day. He hands the kid his game ball, stamped not with a number but with his emblem, Phil in silhouette, in black. The same emblem appears on the back of his black shoes, but in white. Of Classes the boy is not going to play with that golf ball, with this gift from the closest thing to golf to a movie star.
He ends with a par 9. It was an ordinary round, really, except the stars do not do ordinary. The 9th green is 600.700 meters from the interview area. Phil’s parents are going in the opposite direction. They are parked well beyond the 9th green. They are looking for the exit on the left side of the 11th hole.
Probably the last thing Phil wants to do is interview after that day, after signing for 75, four above par. But he does it, because he has to. Because he’s a pro. He won the last major. He plays at home. He’s trying to win his first US Open – at 51 – and finish the Grand Slam in his career. He wears his sunglasses for the occasion.
One of his longest answers concerned cell phone chimes, a “video ding,” as he described it.
“It’s part of professional golf,” he said. “You have to learn to manage it. I don’t understand why you just can’t turn that little button on the side to silent. I probably didn’t handle this internally as well as I could – or as well as I would need to. “
One of his shorter answers was about how he spent his birthday on Wednesday.
“I played golf early, then spent time with Amy in the afternoon,” he said.
Then came a question about his parents.
It’s a home game. The biggest star in golf is working from home this week. He’ll likely shoot 68 in the second round. You can’t keep a star down. The stars are rising.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com