Phalling Phlat – Phrom a Phestival to a Phuneral in Phorty Minutes

By: Jay Flemma


We were all writing our leads. At 6:24 p.m., it looked like the tournament was Phil Mickelson’s to win.

Everyone in Mamaroneck – from the media, to the members on the clubhouse terrace to the massive galleries around the golf course – thought the 2006 U.S. Open was over, the last few holes just a "phormality" for Phil Mickelson. It was supposed to be a victory lap.

But then the unthinkable happened. A meltdown of epic proportions. Here, in all their horrors are the . . .

Minutes of the Meltdown

6:24 – Fresh off a birdie on 14, Mickelson calmly rolls in a short putt for par on 15 that gives him a two-shot cushion over his nearest competitors.

6:26 – The gallery around 18 roars with delight as the scoreboard is changed to reflect Phil’s two-shot lead with three to play. Cheers erupt from the terrace. Elderly gentlemen are high-fiving. Women are actually weeping with joy and clapping as though rooting for a child of their loins. All of the polite society in New York City and Mamaroneck are in joyful ecstasy. Sportswriters begin filing out of the media dining room to start to write their articles.

6:28 – Colin Montgomerie rolls in a twisting, double-breaking 70-footer for birdie. He’s now just one shot off the lead. “Where was that two holes ago? A little late,” observed one photographer clearly getting his gear ready for the Phil victory interview.

6:33 – Mickelson’s drive on 16 goes under a tree on the right side of the fairway.

6:36 – Montgomerie finds the dead center of the 18th fairway.

6:38 – Mickelson’s second shot is a punch that runs short of the green. He would eventually miss an eight-foot putt and card a bogey, his lead now one shot.

6:43 – Montgomerie “sticks his iron in the fairway” (as he later put it) and plops his approach into the deep rough before the towering greenside bunker right-front of the 18th green. By now the gallery and media watching are muttering “What if” and “Are we seeing this” to one another.

6:45 – In one of the only lunkhead moves by a fan all week, some chump fires off an air horn as Montgomerie approaches his ball. He is quickly surrounded by New York State Police and removed from Winged Foot.

6:46 – Montgomerie blades his third shot and it finally stops 40 feet left of the cup. Dismayed he shakes his head. The crowd gasps in horror.

6:49 – After running his first putt nine feet past the hole, Montgomerie misses the comebacker. His double-bogey six leaves him at 6-over for the tournament, one shot behind Geoff Ogilvy, who’s found the fairway on 18 and is two strokes behind Mickelson.

6:51 – Ogilvy’s second shot from a divot lands just short of the 18th green.

6:52 – Despite hitting his driver off a garbage can on 17 and needing only a par to win, Mickelson hits his wayward driver so far left it bounces off the top of the hospitality tent. (THE HOSPITALITY TENT!) “I know I had not been hitting a lot of fairways, but I went with my bread-and-butter shot and just hit it left.” When asked why he didn’t go to a 4-wood, Mickelson said “I thought about it, but did not feel comfortable hitting a much longer club into the green. It might not have made it as far into the corner of the dogleg as I would have liked.”

6:53 – Ogilvy chips to two feet.

6:57 – Ogilvy makes his par putt. Now the leader in the clubhouse at plus-5, Ogilvy retires to the locker room to watch and wait. His wife, soon to deliver their first child, joins him.

7:00 – With a huge elm directly between him and the green, the clock strikes midnight for Mickelson as his attempt at a high cut shot comes out low and strikes the tree, caroming directly back toward him. The ball comes to rest 25 yards from the previous shot, with the tree still in the way. The crowd gasps in horror, dumbfounded. Journalists, USGA officials, police and fans all exchange stunned looks. Mickelson’s face falls, his eyes widen and he gets a “deer-in-the-headlights” expression that slowly steels his face. He turns his head away for a moment.

I knew right then and there, he blew the Open.

A sullen silence descends over Winged Foot. You could hear a pin drop.

7:03 – Mickelson’s third shot avoids the same tree, but ends up in a buried lie in the bunker left of the green. There is a soft “Ooh!” from a few people, but again, stunned looks were all the crowd could muster. Mickelson begins to shamble up the fairway.

7:05 – A last-gasp “Let’s Go Phil!” chant erupts from the crowd.

7:07 – Mickelson’s bunker shot runs 20 feet past the hole and into the short rough. The crowd again gasps. Then a silent pall descends.

7:09 – The collapse is complete as Mickelson misses the chip for a tying bogey. It seems no one talks or moves. Eventually the stunned crowd begins to file out. In the locker room a shocked Ogilvy embraces his pregnant wife, family and team. Hugs and handshakes ensue.

Goin’ Down the Road, Pheelin’ Bad,?B>

Mickelson played Russian Roulette with his driver all day and, on 18, finally found the chamber with the bullet in it. Mickelson hit a staggering two fairways all day – that’s right, two. Moreover, the same 64-degree wedge Mickelson claimed saved “one or two shots each day” abandoned him. He was 0 for 5 in sand saves on Sunday.

Montgomerie and Mickelson both double-bogeyed 18 or they would have won. Jim Furyk would have made the playoff had he simply got par on the 72nd hole.

Mickelson gambled and lost despite having the experience of seeing both Payne Stewart and David Toms steal major championships from under his nose by laying up and sinking 15-foot putts for par.

In calling Toms a wuss, a sports broadcaster friend opined, “He got lucky, they don’t put plaques in the fairway to commemorate guys that laid up.”

Yeah, but they don’t give out trophies to guys who take their shots and miss, either.

Let’s not take anything away from Geoff Ogilvy. But let’s put the day’s events in a historical perspective. Phil’s collapse, combined with Montgomerie’s improbable double-bogey, joins a short list of major-championship horror stories for the ages.

Sam Snead triple-bogeys the last hole of the 1939 U.S. Open to lose to eventual playoff winner Byron Nelson.

In 1966, Arnold Palmer blows a seven-shot lead to lose to Billy Casper at Olympic Club.

Jean Van de Velde has a three-shot lead going into 18 at Carnoustie during the 1999 British Open. He narrowly misses Barry Burn twice only to find it on his third shot. He sheds his shoes and socks to the delight of the crowd before his caddie talks sense into him and he takes a drop. His next shot finds the green-side bunker. He escapes disaster for the moment by sinking a 12-footer for the triple-bogey seven, but loses in a playoff to Scotsman Paul Laurie.

Stewart Cink three-putts from two and a half feet to miss a playoff by one shot at the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills.

All in all, one fact remains as inescapable today as it did before the championship: No golf course in America has as much of a synergy of U.S. Open history and U.S. Open misery as Winged Foot. Once again, as at every U.S. Open here, the golf course won in 2006.

All in the Family

A distant relative of Sir Angus Ogilvy (part of Britain’s royal family) and an even more distant relative of Scotland’s King of Bannockburn fame, Robert the Bruce, Ogilvy is also related to eminent pro golfer and commentator Judy Rankin. Rankin, who will have minor surgery tomorrow, was elated that Ogilvy, who married her daughter-in-law’s sister, won the tournament.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.blogspot.com, Jay Flemma’s comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America’s great public golf courses (and whether they’re worth the money), Jay has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf – or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.


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