Mickelson gives up U.S. Open shot in favor of daughter's graduation

Mickelson explains why he's skipping U.S. Open (1:00)

Phil Mickelson says he's excited for a big moment for his daughter and it's unfortunate he will miss this year's U.S. Open. (1:00)

DUBLIN, Ohio -- An entire generation has no idea what a beeper is, but that was the technological communication device of choice in 1999. The one inside Phil Mickelson's golf bag at Pinehurst all those years ago ended up taking on a life of its own.

Would it beep? Would Phil really leave the U.S. Open when he was in position to win his first major championship? Might Jim "Bones" Mackay, his caddie, not tell him?

The alert from Mickelson's wife, Amy, never came. She has often joked in the ensuing years that she did all she could to keep the couple's first child, Amanda, from arriving before Phil could win that U.S. Open.

That didn't happen either, but Amanda was born less than a day after Payne Stewart made a 12-foot par putt to win the U.S. Open and relegate Mickelson to the first of his six runner-up finishes in what is now the only major championship he has not won.

Now Amanda is about to turn 18. And she is set to graduate from high school. And that ceremony happens to be in California on the day the U.S. Open is set to begin in Wisconsin.

And so it only makes sense that for Phil Mickelson, the decision he faced wasn't much of a decision at all.

"This is one of those moments where you look back on life and you just don't want to miss it," Mickelson said Saturday after playing his third round at the Memorial Tournament. "I'll be really glad that I was there and present."

Of course, family first is great. But it carries that much more weight when what he potentially is giving up means so much.

Mickelson has taken the high road here in every way. He put his daughter above golf, even for a tournament that is so consequential. Lefty has had some soul-crushing near misses at the U.S. Open, a tournament that "I want to win the most," he said.

And by alerting the United States Golf Association to his intentions -- he has yet to officially withdraw, awaiting something unforeseen to allow plans to change -- Mickelson gives the organization a chance to alter tee times and maybe give a possible alternate into the field some extra preparation time.

"It doesn't look good for me playing," Mickelson said. "But I'm really excited about this moment in our family's life."

All of which helps to explain Mickelson's decision to play at Colonial last week -- a tournament he had not visited since 2010 -- and not make a scouting trip to Erin Hills, site of the U.S. Open that begins on June 15.

Four tournaments in a row, with the U.S. Open last? No prep work, which has been a major championship hallmark for Mickelson for more than a decade?

Now it all makes sense.

If Mickelson would be willing to leave a championship for which he was contending, or travel all the way home to California to attend Amanda's eighth-grade graduation ceremony as he did in 2013 before returning hours before the first round of a tournament where he would eventually finish second, he'd undoubtedly skip one altogether.

Of course, time is running out to complete the career Grand Slam, the biggest goal left that Mickelson would like to fulfill. He will be 47 on June 16 and has not won a tournament in nearly four years, his last victory coming at the 2013 Open at Muirfield. To put that in perspective, Tiger Woods has won more recently than Mickelson.

So to expect Lefty to win a U.S. Open while approaching the age of the oldest-ever major champion -- Julius Boros was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship -- makes skipping one this late in his career all the more difficult.

"The only way to win is if you play and have a chance," Mickelson said. "But I'll be able to play the next two years solidly before Sofia [his other daughter] gets to graduate. Hopefully that won't conflict."

It is difficult to say if Erin Hills is a missed opportunity or not. The golf course in Wisconsin is such an unknown. There is little sense for if Mickelson could have excelled there. The fairways are said to be quite wide, which would have helped; the walk is extremely long, which wouldn't have been in his favor.

Next year the U.S. Open goes to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second to Retief Goosen in 2004; and the following year it returns to Pebble Beach, where Mickelson made his pro debut in 1992 and where he has won the PGA Tour event held there four times.

Mickelson, who has played in 26 U.S. Opens and missed the cut just three times, said he often thinks back to that 1999 tournament at Pinehurst, the close call on the course and then the exhilarating flight back across the country to be there in time for the birth of his daughter.

"I think about Payne Stewart [who died a few months later in a plane crash] and I can't believe how quickly time has gone by," Mickelson said. "Here she is turning 18 and moving off to college and I'm so proud of her. And she's a special person. I'm excited to see what she has to say at her commencement."

Had Stewart missed his par putt on that Sunday, he and Mickelson would have had an 18-hole playoff on Monday. What would have happened then? Would Mickelson have conceded, knowing the baby was due?

It always seemed like karma should be on his side when it comes to the U.S. Open, his willingness to sacrifice being repaid in some way. That, of course, has yet to happen, but maybe it still will.

And what a story it would be. Maybe Phil will consider putting that beeper back in the bag, for good luck.