• Leigh Gerstenberger

On Friendship and Fatherhood




While watching the US Open Golf Championship on Father’s Day Weekend, I was reminded of a US Open 22 years ago held at Pinehurst in 1999. That year Payne Stewart was dueling with Phil Mickelson for our nation’s golf title. In addition to the fierce competition, Mickelson at the time was also battling the moniker of “best golfer to have never won a major tournament.” The back story of the tournament was that Phil and his wife Amy were expecting their first child, and Phil had already declared that if Amy went into labor he would withdraw from the tournament and fly across the country to California to be there for the birth.


The tournament came down to the 72nd hole with Stewart making a par putt to win the championship by one stroke. In an incredible gesture of friendship, rather than simply shanking hands with Mickelson after making the final putt, Stewart cradled Mickelson’s face with both hands, looked him square in the eyes and said to him that becoming a father, was better than any golf victory he would ever experience.


A few moments later, Stewart reprised those remarks during his acceptance speech on national television. In October 1999, four months after winning the US Open, Stewart lost his life in a plane crash.


Since his defeat in that US Open, Phil Mickelson and his wife have had three children. Additionally, he now has six major golf tournaments having won the Masters Tournament in 2004, 2006 and 2010; The Open Championship in 2013; and two PGA Championships, the first in 2005 and the second earlier this year at the age of 50 which made him the oldest golfer to ever win a major golf tournament.


This past Father’s Day weekend, Mickelson competed in the 121st US Open held at Torrey Pines and finished well out of contention, tied for 62nd place.


That being said, I was surprised to see Mickelson sitting on the practice range with Kelley Cahill and her young son while her partner Jon Rahm hit balls trying to stay loose in the event, the tournament went to a sudden death playoff.


Rahm who earlier in the month was forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament going into the final round with a six stroke lead due to a positive COVID test, would go on to be the first Spaniard to win the US Open later that day. His friend Phil Mickelson would be one of the first to congratulate him for doing so.


Click on the link below to see the highlights of the final two holes from the 1999 US Open.




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