A GRIP ON SPORTS
There is only one guy I can really root for today as the U.S. Open draws to a close. Well, two. Read on.
• If Steve Stricker were to walk off with the trophy this afternoon, I wouldn't be too upset. He's probably the only guy playing at Merion today I've ever met, having been introduced to him at a Washington State basketball game in Tempe a few years back. See, Stricker, a Wisconsin native, and Tony Bennett are friends, the connection being, as I understood it, Tony's wife Laurel and Stricker's wife Nicki are long-time friends. So I wouldn't be adverse to being able to walk around and say I know the U.S. Open champion. (A stretch, sure, but who doesn't stretch connections like that?) However, there is one person I'm really rooting for today and the reasons are pretty simple, though it will take some explaining. Now there is no way I can explain it better than Bill Dwyre did in his LA Times column Friday but I'll try. It goes back to 1999, when a sort-of-dorky looking Phil Mickelson finished second to Payne Stewart in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. See, Mickelson played the 72 holes with a beeper on, waiting for wife Amy to go into labor with their first child. The beep never came because Amy didn't want him to leave North Carolina, not because the labor didn't start. Anyhow, Stewart won, dunking a 15-foot putt on the final hole to hold off Mickelson. Then the pro who wore knickers to every event, grabbed Mickelson by the face and told him (yelled at him?) not to worry, he, Mickelson, was going to win other U.S. Opens. But he was going to experience something better. He was going to witness the birth of his first child. Four months later, Stewart, a father of two, died in a plane crash. Fourteen years later, Mickelson, a father of three, has yet to win a U.S. Open, though he's finished second a record five times. Some of those losses have been bizarre, with Mickelson finding a way to lose late in the last round. After one especially stupid decision probably cost him another win, Mickelson was honest enough to call himself an idiot afterward. This week, it's been well-publicized Mickelson flew home to be in the audience when his daughter Amanda gave a speech at her eighth-grade commencement, flying back from San Diego to Philadelphia overnight to get to his Thursday tee time. (By the way, it was the type of thing Jack Nicklaus did often, flying home after a Friday round to watch one of his son's high school football games, then back to the golf course for a Saturday tee time. It was easier for Nicklaus, of course. He lived in Columbus, Ohio, a short jaunt from many of the East Coast-based tournaments. And it wasn't in the day of micro-examination of everything sports figures do.) Mickelson deserves props for doing what he could to make his daughter's day special. The equivalent for you and me probably would have been to leave work, drive an hour or so to be there for our child, then drive back to work for a late night of building widgets. So it only makes sense that we root for Mickelson today. It was Amanda who was born the day after that 1999 U.S. Open. It was Stewart who told Mickelson a truism that's stayed with Phil the rest of his life. And it is Mickelson who is celebrating his 43rd birthday on this Father's Day. So a win today would draw it all together in a storybook manner. And we all love a great story, right? So Phil will probably shoot a 75 and finish second.
• A couple other things before we move to the links. If you open your sports section today (assuming you have a Spokesman-Review sports sections within reach and you just come here because you like to laugh at my typos), you'll see a series of stories about concussions and their effect on athletes. It's an ambitious project by the Review staff. The stories cover a variety of topics, including high school athletes from soccer to football players, Washington State football, boxers, professional football players including Spokane's Mark Rypien (pictured), to trainers and their role. It's worth checking out.
• WSU: Christian Caple has a story linked above on the Pac-12's yey-to-be-specified new concussion rules and their effect on the Cougars (the short version: probably not much). … It's Father's Day, so is it any surprise we found a story about Klay and Mychal Thompson? … There was a volleyball staff change in Pullman. … Speaking of concussions, we found this story about college athletes as well. … Oregon State came this close to a walk-off win in its college World Series opener. But the Beavers lost. … UCLA begins play today.
• Preps: A couple of Spokane runners did well in a meet back East.
• Shock: It's been a long time since the Shock offense has played this poorly, especially in a big game. But it did last night and top-ranked Arizona easily defeated the Shock 59-42 in Phoenix. The win basically clinches the division for the Rattlers.
• Indians: Two games, two losses. By the same 6-4 score. Greg Lee has the story.
• Mariners: The M's put 41-year-old Henry Blanco in the starting lineup yesterday, catching Felix Hernandez, a guy he has caught in international play. The move paid off as Hernandez threw seven shutout innings and Blanco roped a grand slam (pictured) to give Seattle a 4-0 win and the first two games of the three-game series with Oakland. With Hisashi Iwakuma going today, the M's have a chance for a sweep. That's sort of a silver lining in this cloudy season, isn't it? … Kyle Seager made one of his typical big little plays the other night to help the M's win. … Speaking of Seager, baseball is a family affair as Larry Stone's column illustrates. Stone also has a notebook and power rankings.
• Seahawks: How comfortable are the Hawks at each position? Bob Condotta tells you.
• Here's a question for you: Will each of the Stanley Cup finals games go overtime? It's two-for-two after Boston's 2-1 win last night. … I also thought you might find this column on Tiger Woods interesting. … Enjoy your Father's Day. I will. Until later …