The 2021 U.S. Open marks the third USGA championship for the South Course and the second time it will play host to the national championship.
Phil Mickelson Sr. has watched his son play some of the finest golf courses in the country and the world, however it is a course three miles from the Mickelson home that holds some of the most dear memories for the family.
Called Navajo Canyon when the Mickelson's began playing there more than 30 years ago, Mission Trails Golf Course is a 6,000-yard, par-71 course located in the San Carlos neighborhood of San Diego. It is the course where Phil Mickelson played regularly during the ages 12 to 14 and really began to come into his own as a golfer.
The senior Mickelson - who with his wife Mary still lives in the same house that Phil and siblings Tim and Tina grew up in - is frequently reminded of those days when he drives past the golf course.
"When Phil was about 12 years old he went to the golf course and talked to the pro and told him that he wanted to be a professional golfer," said Mickelson Sr., "and that he would like to work at his golf course doing anything that they would want him to do. Not for pay but for the ability to hit range balls and play golf.
They suggested that he could work in the parking lot and around the pro shop picking up any type of trash two or three times a week. That was his first job and he took advantage of the opportunity to hit golf balls and spent a lot of time practicing and then they allowed him to pick up the flags at the end of play each day. He did that. And he graduated to picking up range balls and did that as well."
Young Phil practiced or played at the course nearly every day. His father learned soon enough how much that improved the youngster's game.
"He asked if I would come out and play after work one day and we did," said Mickelson Sr., who is a retired airline pilot. "I wasn't playing exceptionally well, but I shot 81. He beat me by EIGHT shots. That was first time he beat me and the darn guy shot 73."
Mickelson Sr. said there was nothing unusually spectacular that transpired on the course that day.
"It was just a standard good round of golf," he said. "He hit the ball well. It went where he wanted it to go. And he made putts. Pretty soon I realized that there was no way I was going to catch him...The 73 was very likely his best score at that time."
Mickelson Sr. still plays at Mission Trails now and then and could probably remember something that happened with his son at virtually each hole.
He recalls the par-five 14th hole not for an incredible shot but for young Phil's middle school science fair project.
"He would set up a teeing area and then walk off 10-yard increments and mark them," said Mickelson Sr. "Then he and some of his Junior Golf friends he would invite would come and hit. "His project was to determine which compression golf ball was best suited for the junior golfer - 80, 90 or 100 compression ball. He would have the person hit and then mark where it lands and chart that. He had a regular method for throwing out the best two and the worst two and coming up with an average and determine which ball they had the best success with. That was the premise for his science fair project."
There is one other Mission Trails story in particular that Mickelson Sr. recalls leading to a life lesson for his son.
"I had been gone for a week or so and came back and he wanted to play golf and we went down together," said Mickelson Sr. "He hit the ball (on his first shot) and he kind of banged his club on the ground. He wasn't exactly happy with the shot. And I'm thinking I don't remember seeing any kind of reaction like that before.
"Apparently, he had been playing golf with a couple teenagers the week that I was gone. It happened again on the second or third shot. I said, ‘What are you doing? What's this banging the club?'
His son said, ‘Well, I didn't like the shot.' To which his father replied: "Yeah, but you don't have to do that."
This happened again a few more times and finally Phil's father had had enough.
"If you're banging your club like that, then you're not having fun," he said. "We're out here to have fun. If you do it again, then we can just go in.
"On the seventh hole, it happened again. When we were on the tee for the eighth hole, I said, ‘You can see the car up there (in the parking lot). You can either take your clubs and walk to the car, because, obviously, you're not having fun, or, you can walk with me. I'm going to enjoy the last two holes and I'll meet you at the car."
Said his son, "I'll walk with you."
"When I was picking the ball out of the hole at No. 8," said Mickelson Sr. "I was leaning over and he tugged on my shoulder and he said, 'Dad, I think I can have fun now.'
"So we played the last hole together. That was the last time I ever saw him bang a club anywhere or show any emotion in that respect."
Nearly 30 years later, Mickelson Sr. still remembers the moment - and others - with great pride.
"It's fond memories," he said.
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