ARDMORE, Pa. -- Phil Mickelson definitely has his priorities in the proper order, and No. 1 on his mind this week was definitely not the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
Mickelson flew back home to California on Monday to attend the eighth-grade graduation of his daughter, Amanda, on Wednesday in San Diego. He originally had planned to practice at Merion on Monday and fly back Tuesday, but heavy rains that day washed away that game plan, and he jetted back to the West Coast a day early. He was expected to return late Wednesday and have no problem making his 7:11 a.m. tee time in Thursday’s first round.
“Amanda is speaking at her eighth-grade graduation ceremony Wednesday, and I always planned on being there for that,” Mickelson said in a statement. “But since it was raining so much on Monday and we didn’t even know if we’d be able to play a sloppy course, I came home [Monday] to practice in great weather on my range and greens. I’ll be ready to go on Thursday.”
Mickelson already had played practice rounds at Merion last Tuesday and Wednesday before competing in the PGA Tour event last week in Memphis, where he finished tied for second place.
Ernie Els’ caddie is likely to be well-recognized by the Philadelphia galleries this week, though he won’t have a helmet on his head or be slip-sliding on the grass.
Els’ bag will be toted this week by former Philadelphia Flyer Dan Quinn, who has worked for the South African golfer part-time over the past four years. Quinn played 14 years in the NHL, including two different one-year stints with the Flyers.
Quinn got to know Els when both were living in Jupiter and their daughters became good friends. Quinn started playing golf himself at age 12 growing up in London, Ontario, and is now a single-digit handicapper. Els, known as one of the calmest players in the game, said he likes Quinn’s on-course intensity as a complement to his own placid, laid-back style.
A former rugby player as a teenager, Els said he and his caddie/friend have been known to have the occasional argument about the difference in toughness between rugby and hockey.
“Big, I mean big, big, big arguments,” Els said. “One night, we actually had too many beers, and I showed him. I go, ‘This is how you tackle.’ Then he was giving me some checks.”
One of the iconic shots in Merion’s rich U.S. Open history was struck with a 1-iron by Ben Hogan in the 1950 event. It came on the 72nd hole in the final round, a 215-yard shot to an elevated 18th green that resulted in a tough two-putt par and allowed Hogan to advance to a Monday playoff against Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.
Sixteen months after a near fatal car crash, Hogan won the tournament with a playoff round of 69, and there is a plaque at the spot of the shot at the 18th hole commemorating one of the most celebrated blows in golf history.
An official from the USGA museum in Far Hills, N.J., brought the Hogan 1-iron to Merion this week to show it around the players’ locker room and practice range. No current players on the PGA Tour still use the club on a regular basis, and most players dropping a ball near the plaque in the practice rounds are using mid-irons or rescue clubs to reach the green.
Tiger Woods said he used to use a 1-iron borrowed from his late father as a teenager but put the club away once he turned professional.
“The running joke out here is, well, when I got here in my teens I used a 1-iron,” Woods said. “In my 20s I used a 2-iron, and in my 30s I use a 5-wood. You see where this is going, right? So I’m shaping an 11-wood from about 120 when I get older.”