Chaos breaks out on final hole of the U.S. Open at Merion

Chaos breaks out on final hole of the U.S. Open at Merion

Crowds gather on the 18th fairway behind Phil Mickelson to watch his third shot on Sunday.
Al Tielemans / Sports Illustrated

ARDMORE, Pa. — Pandemonium broke out once Phil Mickelson hit his approach shot into 18 at Merion. The green and white ropes — which might as well have been stone walls during the week — were broken down once Phil approached the final green with one last chance to force a playoff with Justin Rose.

Fans who had followed the final group of Mickelson/Hunter Mahan soon realized there wasn't a good way to get from the 15th green back to 18 to see if Phil could pull off some late heroics.

They were rebuffed at every angle of attack to try and get a view of Phil. Until the masses realized, well, that they were the masses. Literally amid cries of "They can't stop 25,000 of us," fans rushed towards Mickelson. It was a modern-day Battle of Jericho, sans the trumpets. How satisfying must it have felt to the fans to trample their white-and-green striped shirt captors?

The out-manned USGA staffers attempted to quell the onslaught of people who had literally been on the outside looking in for the past week. It wasn't happening. The group pressed forward until the police arrived. Using force to keep the crowd at bay, the fans eventually created a complete circle-shaped gallery around Mickelson to watch him hit his pitch shot.

Trees were immediately filled to the brim with spectators. One tried to push his way through the crowd by saying he was Phil Mickelson's dad while reminding everyone it was Father's Day. That didn't fly.

About 40 yards away, on the backside of the green, Tere McBreen, Steve Varisano and Angelo Varisano stood in the front row of an elevated grandstand looking on at the circus developing in front of them.

Waiting in the same spot from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. had paid off.

Tere, 50, and Steve, 31, were strangers when they arrived to the 18th green grandstand at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Twelve hours later, they had adopted each other as family members. Their only connection being where they live; Tere lives in nearby Malvern and Steve moved to Westchester after growing up in neighboring Bryn Mawr. That, and they both were rooting for Phil to be the one to hoist the trophy in front of them.

Varisano was here with actual family as well. Steve brought his dad, Angelo, to the course for Sunday's round as a part of his Father's Day present. And what a gift it turned out to be.

Right off the back of the final green, Steve and Angelo were in the front row in the closest spot possible to the pin that ultimately decided the winner of the tournament.

"He's loving it," Steve said of his father. "He's having a blast."

"It's a great place to be on Father's Day," said Angelo, who was at the course early enough to see the pin placements. "I've got my son here with me, and I couldn't ask for a better spot."

The spot was in high demand throughout the day. The leaders hadn't even begun their final round, but there was a long queue waiting for a chance to enter the stands where you can also see the tee shots on holes 1 and 14, high-five players after their rounds and even snag a game-used glove or ball. Chet Marshall, the aptly named marshal in charge of this grandstand, said it had been filled to the brim since 11 a.m. Sunday morning — well before any golfer was set to play that hole.

"We would all take turns leaving," Tere said. "That's how we got to know each other. These guys even bought my lunch."

"We formed an alliance," said Steve, who saw a memorable finish in his first live tournament.

When asked if he played golf or is just a fan, Tere answered for him — as if they've known each other for years.

"He's awesome," she said. "Tell him!"

Steve wasn't forthcoming with his score from a Friday afternoon round, but after goading from Tere, he says he finished with a 78.

"Isn't Steve awesome?" said Tere, who admitted to not being able to break 100 herself.

Here, everyone called each other by their first name. Here, everyone offered to bring whatever concessions were needed when they made a snack run. Here, everyone helped the marshals by alerting them when groups were coming up the fairway.

"Tere, we should sing 'Happy Birthday' to Phil when he walks up," Steve said.

"Oh, we totally should!" Tere responded. "We can get our whole group to do it."

Just like a family.

Maybe Philadelphia really is the city of brotherly love?

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