PINEHURST, N.C. – You can easily see a screenwriter walking into the office of a major Hollywood producer and pitching this big idea …
“So there are these two superstar golfers – one is a veteran, a family man, a practical joker who’s almost universally beloved; the other is younger, on the verge of becoming a father for the first time, still trying to win the big one. You with me so far?
“OK, so these two guys are paired together in one of the year’s biggest tournaments. It’s back-and-forth all day. More dramatic with each hole. Finally, at the end, the veteran makes an improbable putt on the last hole to win! But instead of running off to celebrate, he grabs the younger guy by the cheeks and tells him that he’s going to love being a father! I mean, how amazing is that?
“The very next day, his first child is born. Happy ending, right? Wrong. Four months later, tragedy strikes. The veteran player dies in a plane crash. Incredibly sad. The entire golf community mourns, including the guy who lost to him that day.
“Well, fast forward 15 years. That younger player isn’t so young anymore. He’s almost the exact same age as the veteran when he died. He now has three children. He’s also won every big tournament there is – except the one he lost that day. He keeps coming in second place! But now, this time, he’s back at the EXACT SAME COURSE where he lost to the veteran and …”
By comparison, “Tin Cup” seems more plausible than the potential story of Phil Mickelson returning to Pinehurst No. 2 so many years after losing to Payne Stewart and finally claiming that elusive U.S. Open title.
It’s a script layered with so much drama, so many inconceivable plot twists, that a Hollywood producer might decline on the grounds that it just sounds too unrealistic.
And yet, here we are. The entire script has been written, except for the final act.
“To do it right here where Payne and I had this moment,” Mickelson said Tuesday, “where he we talked about fatherhood, but he also talked about winning future U.S. Opens, although I haven't won one yet, I'm still fighting hard and this would be a great place to break through and do it.”
In major championship golf, we’re often lucky if the champion has one major storyline going for him on Sunday evening. Mickelson owns a confluence of them, the likes we’ve rarely – if ever – witnessed packaged together and wrapped in one neat bow, waiting to be ripped open.
He would vanquish all those U.S. Open close calls of the past – six of them, to be exact, where he finished behind just one other player.
He would triumph at Pinehurst No. 2, the first of those runner-up results, the one that started this chain of painful memories.
He would fulfill the prophecy of Stewart, who told him that day, right on this course, that he would someday win this tournament.
He would become just the sixth player in the game’s history to record a career grand slam, winning each of the four major championships.
With such a combination of delicious narratives, even Mickelson admits that it has been impossible not to allow his mind to wander and think about what it would be like to win the U.S. Open this week.
“I try not to,” he said, “because I don't want to get ahead of myself. But it's only natural that it's going to. Occasionally I'll catch myself, but I really try not to, because I really just want to focus on what I need to do to get ready for Thursday. If I can do that, hopefully I'll give myself a chance on the weekend. But when I jump ahead, that never really works out good, at least in the past.”
“… and this time things are different! This time, he goes out there and …”
“Let me guess,” interrupts the Hollywood producer, in between prolonged puffs on a Cohiba. “He wins the tournament, thanks the veteran player in memorium, then skips off into the sunset and lives happily ever after. The end.”
“Well, yeah,” the screenwriter answers. “I mean, isn’t that what everyone wants to see?”