OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) — If there’s a drawback to flying “Air Phil,” it’s this: no frequent flyer points.
But that didn’t dissuade Phil Mickelson from another cross-country trip on the eve of a U.S. Open. Lefty left Oakmont on his private plane for San Diego to attend daughter Sophia’s eighth-grade graduation. He’s expected back in time to squeeze in a practice round Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s start.
If the trip sounds familiar, it should.
Mickelson took basically the same route in 2013, when he was playing at Merion and returned home to attend the eighth-grade graduation of his older daughter, Amelia. That trip covered 2,400 miles, but this time Mickelson might want to leave a little earlier. At Merion, he landed barely 3½ hours before his tee time and three-putted his first hole for a bogey.
The good news is that Mickelson didn’t give back a shot the rest of the day, especially impressive since Merion surrendered only one other round under par to the 78 players who completed the first round.
BAD BACK, GOOD OMEN?: Justin Rose called his recovery from back problems just in time to play the U.S. Open a “race against the clock.”
But the time away from the game — Rose missed two events struggling with a disk flare-up — could prove a blessing in disguise.
“I’ve done everything humanly possible to be here from a recovery point of view, from a fitness point of view, from a practice point of view, but there’s no doubt my practice schedule has certainly been on the light side. I only started hitting the driver two or three days ago.
“So it’s definitely been a tight timetable,” he added.
On the plus side, Rose said: “I’m coming in fresh, which is the great news. I think, obviously, this golf course is going to require a huge amount of patience, and I think that having that quiet time to sit back and assess my game and assess the challenge this week and coming in with a freshness, I think, could be an advantage.”
THE KING AND I … AND O.J., TOO: Ernie Els won the first of his four majors at Oakmont in 1994.
To say it was overshadowed by some other events isn’t telling the half of it.
“I think that whole weekend was getting kind of weird,” Els said with typical understatement.
First, soccer’s World Cup was being unveiled all over America. The U.S. Open that year was also the last for Arnold Palmer, who learned the game at nearby Latrobe Country Club and whose swashbuckling style and winning ways took golf from a niche sport for the country-club set to a TV audience in the millions.
And then there was that infamous slow-speed car chase on the other coast as police tracked O.J. Simpson in the murder investigation of his ex-wife and her friend.
“I think they cut the golf coverage to go to L.A., some helicopter chasing the Bronco down the highway,” Els said with a laugh.
“I didn’t know much about O.J. Simpson, but he was very famous to have all of L.A. chasing him,” he added. “So I remember that.”
FIVE RINGS, THREE MAYBES: With less than two months left before golf returns to the Summer Olympics, more than a few golfers remain uneasy about the spread of the Zika virus — which has been tied to fetal deaths and severe birth defects — in Brazil.
Australians Adam Scott and Marc Leishman, South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, and Vijay Singh of Fiji have all announced they won’t be going for a host of reasons. But all three major champions at the U.S. Open who faced questions Tuesday about competing there remain on track to show up.
“Mostly everyone’s just been talking about Zika and everything else,” said Rory McIlroy, who is from Northern Ireland. “But I think once we get these majors out of the way … our attention will turn to that, and I think everyone will start to get a bit more excited about it.”
Englishman Danny Willett was less effusive, saying he and his wife have a 3-month-old son and are thinking about having more kids soon.
“We’re down to play at the moment. Hopefully, by the time it comes around … the threat is a little bit less, and it will be fun to go there. I think it would be fantastic to be able to be in and around Olympians,” Willett said.
“But I’d never put my family or myself in any threats to go play a golf tournament, regardless of what it is.”
The strongest endorsement came from Jordan Spieth, a lock to make the U.S. team.
“I’m pretty confident with what we’ve heard from not only the PGA Tour but our personal outreach, and I think being an Olympian is just an absolute tremendous honor. Do I think being an Olympian outweighs any significant health threat? No,” he said. “If I thought that the threat was significant, I certainly would not go.
“But based on what’s come to my knowledge at this point, it seems like it’s going to be an extremely memorable experience and look forward to trying to win a gold for the United States.”