SANDWICH, England — During the trophy presentation at Royal St. George’s on Sunday, Alison Campbell stood behind the 18th green, craning her neck to get a better view of her future husband and the Champion Golfer of the Year, Darren Clarke. Suddenly, from the assembled throng of media, officials and teary family members, a radiant blonde emerged and threw her arms around Campbell.
It was Amy Mickelson.
“Congratulations!” Amy said into Campbell’s right ear. “Well done by your man!”
The same could have been said of Amy’s man, given he had just finished tied for second in a tournament that has historically chewed him up like a flop shot into a 40 mph wind. Still, for Phil, the outcome of this 140th Open could have easily been so much sweeter.
Mickelson started the day even par for the championship, five shots behind Clarke. The left-hander needed to make something happen quickly, which is exactly what he did, mounting the kind of charge that you’d expect from him on the back nine of Augusta National, not the front nine of a wacky, windswept links. Mickelson birdied the par-4 second, then carded two more birdies at the difficult 495-yard par-4 fifth and the par-3 sixth. He officially announced his intentions — surely Clarke heard the roar — at the short par-5 seventh, where Mickelson banged home a 25-footer for eagle.
“Oh, man, that was some of the most fun I’ve had competitively,” Mickelson said after his round of 68 tied him with Sergio Garcia for low score of the day. “I was just hitting the shot I was seeing every time, and the ball was rolling where I wanted it to.”
Not in every case, though.
Only one thing was more undependable than the weather in Sandwich this week and that was Mickelson over a short putt. All week long would-be gimmes plagued him, and the bug bit again on Sunday. When Mickelson arrived on the green at the par-3 11th, he was at 6-under, just one shot back of Clarke. After missing his birdie try, he stepped up to what was no more than a three-footer for his par — and missed that, too, lipping out on the high side.
“A stupid mistake,” said Mickelson, who a couple weeks ago said that he was intending to putt the greens at St. George’s aggressively to temper the breaks. “There was nothing to it. It was just a dumb mental error. I just lost focus there, and it hurts to throw away shots like that when I’m behind.”
That bogey forced Mickelson to start pressing. “I had to start making birdies,” he said, “and that’s when I ended up making a couple bogeys.”
Three more, in fact, at the 13th, 15th and 16th holes.
As Mickelson strolled up the 18th fairway, his hands buried deep in the pockets of his black rain suit, he had every reason to be glum — and not just because the on-again-off-again rain was on again. Mickelson is now 0-for-18 at the Open, and this week will be remembered as the one that could have been or should have been, or at the very least the one at which Phil couldn’t capitalize on an eye-popping front-nine 30.
Still, in the waning moments it was difficult to detect much disappointment in Mickelson’s body language. When he took a free drop next to the grandstand that flanks the right side of the 18th green, he yukked it up with the fans and threw a ball to one of them. Anthony Kim, Mickelson’s playing partner, said of the galleries: “I knew kind of who they were rooting for, that’s for sure.”
If Mickelson was rooting for anyone, other than himself, it’s likely the eventual winner was near the top of that list. After the round, Clarke revealed that he and the Mickelsons forged a tight bond at the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland, which was played just two months after Clarke lost his wife, Heather, to cancer. Wives and significant others play a big role in the Ryder Cup proceedings, so those matches were especially difficult for Clarke. That much was evident to the Mickelsons. During the processionals of players and wives at the opening and closing ceremonies, Amy escorted both Phil and Clarke.
“Amy stood in the middle and held both our hands,” Clarke recalled.
In 2009, when Amy herself was diagnosed with cancer, Clarke was quick to offer his support. “He was one of the first people who called us,” Mickelson said Sunday. “He’s been through this and could not have been a better person to talk to. We talked for a few hours a couple of times. He’s a tremendous person and a very good friend, and I couldn’t be happier for him. It was fun to try to make a run at him.”
Fun to watch, too.