When he begins his preparation for the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson might be wise to consider a new wrinkle for his routine:
Schedule an important family event. Preferably with his oldest daughter Amanda.
It seems to bring out the best in Lefty, especially at a U.S. Open.
Mickelson is the U.S. Open's favorite bridesmaid, a runner-up a record five times in 22 career starts. And there he was again on Thursday, jumping into the clubhouse lead of the weather-delayed first round at Merion Golf Club with a 3-under 67 that tied his lowest opening-round score in the tournament.
That he was able to do that, after flying back from San Diego early Thursday morning and arriving at the club less than 90 minutes before his scheduled 7:11 a.m. tee time, makes the performance all the more remarkable.
"This is not that out of the ordinary," Mickelson said. "I do this about six to 10 times a year where I fly back east red-eye, play in some outing and then come home."
But the day of the U.S. Open?
Mickelson might have been in a somnambulant state, but his game surely wasn't. He slept thee hours on the plane, took a one-hour nap before his tee time, then squeezed in another one-hour snooze during a 3 1/2-hour weather delay that began at 8:26 a.m.
But, after a bogey at Merion's first hole, he made four birdies and 13 pars, and, for now, sits atop the leader board while the rest of the first round will be completed today.
"It might be abnormal, but it actually worked out really well," Mickelson said. "I got all my work done on Merion when I was here a week and a half ago. I knew exactly how I wanted to play the golf course ... clubs I was going to be hitting, where I was going to be and the shots I was going to have."
Mickelson flew home to San Diego Monday afternoon so he could attend the eighth-grade graduation of his oldest daughter, Amanda, 14. While he was home, he also was able to practice, something he could not do Monday and Tuesday at Merion because of the rain.
Amanda's graduation began at 6 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday. By 8 p.m., Mickelson was on a private plane, heading back to the Philadelphia area. He went directly to Merion after landing, arriving at the club at 5:48 a.m.
"Four kids spoke and she was one of the ones that was chosen," Mickelson said. "I'm really proud of her. She did a great job and she even quoted Ron Burgundy, so it was funny."
Curiously, Amanda is the same daughter whose impending birth 14 years ago had Mickelson ready to leave the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst at a beeper's notice.
Mickelson finished second that year to the late Payne Stewart, whose dramatic 18-foot par putt at the final hole remains one of the great moments in U.S. Open history. After he made the putt, Stewart placed both hands on Mickelson's cheeks and told him, "You will be a wonderful father."
Four months later, Stewart died in a private-plane accident along with four other people. He was 42 at the time.
Ironically, the 67 Mickelson shot Thursday tied the 67 he shot in the opening round in 1999 at Pinehurst.
Maybe he should deliberately schedule family functions around the U.S. Open.
"She told me that it's fine, stay, it's the U.S. Open, I know how much you care about it," Mickelson said of his daughter. "And I told her that I want to be there. I don't want to miss that. I don't want to miss her speech. I don't want to miss her graduation. She spent nine years at that school. She's worked very hard and I'm very proud of her."
Mickelson's most painful of his five runner-up finishes came in 2006 when he tried to hit a high-risk recovery from the left trees and double-bogeyed the final hole at Winged Foot to hand the trophy to Geoff Oglivy.
Since then, his best finishes in the Open are a tie for second at Bethpage Black in 2009 and a tie for fourth a year later at Pebble Beach.
For a player whose wild, daring style would not always appear suited to a U.S. Open setup, Mickelson has nine top-10 finishes in 22 career starts in the national championship. In that time, he has missed only two cuts, the most recent coming in 2007 at Oakmont when he played with a bad wrist that was injured practicing too many shots from the nasty rough.
"Well if I'm able, and I believe I will, if I'm able to ultimately win a U.S. Open, I would say that it's great," Mickelson said. "I will have had, let's say, a win and five seconds. But if I never get that win, then it would be a bit heart-breaking."
Maybe not as much as missing his daughter's graduation.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published June 14, 2013 4:00 AM