Stampeding the final hole of the U.S. Open

So when I posted the first part of this entry, I was still seething at the absurdity of what transpired during the last hour or so of the U.S. Open. My wife and I made it to the “back five” alright, skirting around the back of the 18th green and heading up the hill in between the 14th and 18th holes. After agonizingly squeezing through the crowd, we made it to a little pocket between the 14th and 18th crosswalks. When we realized this wasn’t the ideal spot, we tried to head across the 14th fairway en route to the grandstand behind the 14th green. I thought that perhaps since the final group was through that hole that there would be some empty seats and we could have an unobstructed view of the 18th fairway and green. Unfortunately, for a reason I still can’t quite figure out, the USGA decided to close the crosswalk across the 14th fairway to Golf House Rd as well as the crosswalk on the either side across the 18th fairway to the East Course parking lot. With the path we had taken to this pocket pinched close by the gallery and a bunch of USGA flunkies refusing to allow spectators to exit via the two crosswalks, we were stuck.

We couldn’t see much, only the second shots being struck from the 18th fairway, but thankfully we had those earpiece radios broadcasting ESPN Radio’s coverage. We watched Justin Rose hit this spectacular approach into the 18th green and listened as he hit an even better pitch from just off the back of the green to set up a tap-in par. We then listened as Mickelson missed a golden opportunity for birdie at the 16th following a sensational approach, hit a terrific tee shot at the 17th which came just about one yard short of a ridge that would’ve surely carried his ball within birdie range and subsequently had to settle for a tap-in par.

With Rose in the clubhouse, specifically the backroom of the golf shop after signing his scorecard in the bag room – I finally watched the TV coverage and you can see the framed photos of Merion’s caddies hanging on the wall – Mickelson stood on the 18th tee needing to make birdie to force a playoff. To do that, as I’ve stated before, he absolutely had to hit the fairway. Instead, he found the left rough. We actually had a great view of Mickelson playing his second from this position and after he punched his second shot which wound up short of the green – virtually sealing his fate – my wife recorded this: video

Those stuck in this spectator pocket had been getting more and more perturbed as the USGA employees who lined the crosswalk entrances continued to keep anyone from crossing and refused to provide an explanation as to why they were doing so. Those up against the ropes eventually had enough and charged through, sprinting toward the green. We naturally followed, with the stampede making to the crest of the hill in the fairway about 75 yards from the green and 60 or so from Phil until a swarm of police officers and USGA volunteers formed a human barrier across the fairway. We didn’t get as close as I would’ve liked, but my wife was able to sneak this shot:

Sure we were trapped, but we got a great view of Phil hit that chip and chase after it up the hill. And although I knew even a short game master like Mickelson had the slimmest of chances of holing out, it was still cool to see just how much the galleries surrounding the 18th green were rooting for him.

While Rose was surely a deserving champion, it seems to me that a major is always a little anticlimactic when the winner doesn’t come out of the final group.

So just what went wrong with Phil as he recorded his sixth runner-up finish in the U.S. Open? And what went right a few weeks later across the pond at the Open Championship? Check back shortly and I’ll give you my thoughts.