Phil Mickelson was crestfallen after coming in second for a record sixth time in a U.S. Open.
“Heartbreak,” the four-time major winner said on NBC about what he felt after Justin Rose earned his first major title with a two-shot triumph over Mickelson and Jason Day Sunday at Merion Golf Club. “I mean, this is tough to swallow after coming so close.”
Mickelson was the clear fan favorite of the crowd gathered on suburban Philadelphia’s Main Line in Ardmore, Pa., to cheer on their main man in his quest to raise the trophy of his national championship. The overnight leader entering Sunday’s finale gave the faithful reason to roar when he holed a 74-yard wedge shot for an eagle-2 at the par-4 10th, but in the end, golfer and followers were left empty-handed yet again.
Were it up to the pundits and the fates, the day would have belonged to Mickelson, who turned 43 on Father’s Day and transfixed the golf world with his cross-country travels that landed him back at Merion in time for his Thursday tee time. Rose, in his gracious acceptance speech, gave a nod to Mickelson for leaving Merion on Monday to attend Wednesday night’s eighth-grade graduation of his daughter, Amanda, in San Diego, and hopping back on his private jet for last week’s tourney.
“Being Father’s Day, I think [Phil] needs a big shout-out for how he handled himself as a father this week,” said Rose, who carded a final-round even-par 70 to become the first English winner of the U.S. Open since 1970. “His daughter’s graduation, and coming back to play the tournament, and doing such a fantastic job.”
Rose, himself, was overcome with emotion after sinking a crucial par putt on the 18th hole that he hoped at the time would be enough to clinch the crown. Fighting tears on the 18th green, he broke down in the clubhouse with his wife Kate by his side, as they watched Mickelson and Hunter Mahan complete their round.
The winner of 14 worldwide contests remembered his own father, who passed away in 2002, and who had inspired his development as a golfer and as a dad to his own two kids. His golf shoes sported an embroidered tag with their names, Leo and Lottie, on the heel.
“A lot of us come from great men and we have that responsibility to our children to show them what a great man can be,” said Rose. “That was my goal today, to carry myself in a way that I could be proud when I came off the golf course.
“For it just to all work out for me on such an emotional day,” he added, “I just couldn’t help but look up to the heavens and think that my old dad, Ken, had something to do with it.”
Rose, who won the AT&T National in 2010 around the corner from Merion at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, worked the notoriously fickle Philly crowd like a politician.
“Philadelphia has been my town,” he said after raising the hardware on what he called “a beautiful setting” on the 18th green. “I had such good support here all week and there were a lot of people in the crowd who remember me from [his 2010 AT&T win] that I won here.”
The City of Brotherly Love conferred “a lot of good will” on the 32-year-old Rose, who recognized who really owned the heart of the gallery.
“Obviously, Phil Mickelson, rightly so, is a fan favorite, the way he carries himself,” Rose said. “I’ve got nothing but great things to say about Phil.”
As for Lefty, he suggested to NBC that the turbulent week, and his adventurous drive down the stretch, had taken everything he had left in him to earn, finally, that Open dub, only to see it slip away at the end.
“This was my best chance of all of them because I was playing well, I had a golf course I really liked that I could play aggressive on a number of holes,” he said, red-eyed, not from his travels but from pent-up sentiment. “I felt like this was as good an opportunity as you could ask for and to not do it, it hurts.”