“Barring something unforeseen, I won’t be there,” he said after shooting an even-par 72 Saturday in the third round of the Memorial tournament, where he is tied for 19th.
Mickelson said he would not travel to Wisconsin for practice rounds in the days before the tournament because of a full schedule of commitments at home.
“As I look back on life, this is a moment I’ll always cherish and be glad I was present,” said Mickelson, who will turn 47 on the day of the graduation.
His wife, Amy, said she was proud of him.
“Phil desperately, desperately wants to win the U.S. Open,” she said in a telephone interview from California, adding: “I would have totally understood had he needed to play the U.S. Open. We could have done a video or this or that.”
The Mickelsons had faced similar scheduling conflicts before. The United States Open at Pinehurst in 1999 bumped up against the due date of the couple’s first child. Mickelson vowed that he would leave North Carolina no matter where he stood on the leaderboard if Amy alerted him through a beeper tucked into his caddie’s pocket that she had gone into labor back in Arizona, where the couple was living at the time.
That child was Amanda, and she arrived the day after Mickelson’s riveting final-round duel with Payne Stewart, who celebrated his win by holding Mickelson’s face and saying: “Good luck with the baby. There’s nothing greater than being a father.”
Stewart died in an airplane accident four months after his victory at Pinehurst, and his words have lived on in Mickelson’s mind as he and Amy raised their three children.
In 2013, when Amanda’s eighth-grade commencement ceremony took place the day before the opening round of the United States Open, she told her father he didn’t need to fly back from the Philadelphia area. “It’s the U.S. Open,” she said. “I know how much you care about it.”
Mickelson went home anyway, attended the ceremony and returned to the tournament less than two hours before his first-round tee time. He took second in that Open as well, setting a record with his sixth runner-up finish.
Mickelson said that he had wrestled with the latest conflict for months and that Amanda had assured him once again that she would not mind if he was absent.
Mickelson needs a victory in the United States Open to become the sixth man to win a career Grand Slam, and his window of opportunity is closing. The oldest United States Open champion is Hale Irwin, who was 15 days past his 45th birthday when he won in 1990.
Mickelson’s last victory in any tournament was at the 2013 British Open, but he has been heartened by his play of late. He has not missed a cut this season, and he had three top-8 finishes in his first 13 starts. In three other starts, including the Masters, he opened with scores that put him on the first page of the leaderboard.
“The positive side is that the level of consistency day in, day out, the overall ball striking and just my overall level of play is consistently higher this year than it’s been in the last three or four,” said Mickelson, who added, “About a stroke per round is what it comes down to.”
He said he firmly believed that he was playing well enough to contend for the United States Open title. This year’s site is a first-time venue, which seemed to give an advantage to someone with Mickelson’s experience, making his decision more difficult.
Jack Nicklaus, the Memorial tournament host and a father of five, recently explained how he had coordinated his professional obligations with some of the big events in his children’s lives. This tournament, he said, used to coincide with the graduation ceremonies at the private school in North Palm Beach, Fla., that his five children attended. The first time there was a conflict, he said, he successfully appealed to school officials to change the commencement ceremonies.
After that, Nicklaus said, school officials asked him about his schedule before settling on graduation dates and times.
“I did contribute a lot of money to the school,” Nicklaus said, laughing.
When he heard about Nicklaus’s solution, Mickelson laughed and said, “I just don’t have it in me to do that.”
So, 18 years after he vowed to abandon the Open at Pinehurst to be with his firstborn, Mickelson appears ready to follow through on the essence of that promise.
The baby born the day after the Pinehurst duel has grown into a young woman who was captain of her tennis, basketball and lacrosse teams and served as the student body president. She will be delivering the commencement address.
“She’ll be the one speaking about all the kids in her class, many of whom we’ve known since preschool,” Amy Mickelson said. “We’re very close to a lot of the families, so it’s going to be really special.”
At the end of the summer, Amanda will head to Brown University, where she intends to pursue her passion for Egyptology. “It feels like time’s gone by so fast,” her father said.
Mickelson added: “I’m really excited for Amanda to go to college, because she’s really a unique and dynamic person. Amy and I are strong personalities, and when the three of us are together, we overshadow her. She thrives when she’s on her own, when we’re at a distance, when people can appreciate who she really is.”
He described Amanda as “a calming influence on everybody” and said, “I’m going to really miss that and miss her laugh and miss the time with her.”
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