14 from ’14, Day 2: Phil Mickelson’s wheelchair-bound US Open friend
As 2014 wraps up, I’m running down some of the best/weirdest stories I wrote this year. Today, we travel back to North Carolina, where I spent five veeeery loooong days in June covering the U.S. Open.
Look, I’ll never complain about my job, because that’s the province of cranks who’ve forgotten how damn lucky they are to be getting paid to do something most people would do for free. But let’s be honest: it’s a hell of a lot easier when I’ve got either a. a compelling story or b. a compelling central figure to work with. The U.S. Open, alas, had neither. Martin Kaymer is a perfectly pleasant but highly restrained German who happened to throttle the rest of the field for the entire week. I was looking at an entire week of rote, unspectacular stories right up until late Sunday afternoon, when I spotted a father pushing his son in a wheelchair along the 18th fairway, running parallel to Phil Mickelson.
Turns out this was David and John Finn, and not only did they know Phil, they were personal guests of his. They’ve traveled the entire country watching golf, David nearly immobilized from muscular dystrophy, John his ever-optimistic father. From the story:
The Finns got to North Carolina on Saturday and made their way to Pinehurst No. 2 early Sunday morning. They made their way to the putting green and driving range adjacent to the clubhouse, and that’s where Phil and Bones spotted them.
“When they saw us, they said, ‘why don’t you come with us?'” John recalls. “And when we got over there [to the first tee], they said, ‘Why don’t you come inside the ropes, and stay as long as you want?’ So we went all 18!”
And when Phil Mickelson wants something done, the USGA snaps into action. Tournament volunteers provided the Finns with inside-the-ropes access and water throughout the round. Mickelson didn’t play particularly well, posting a two-over-par 72 to finish the tournament 16 strokes back of winner Martin Kaymer. But for the Finns, the score was an afterthought. The experience was the joy.
Here’s the rest of the story. This was the most spiritually uplifting one I wrote this year, by a long shot. And if Kaymer had played just a little bit worse, I never would’ve gotten it. Thanks, Marty.
Previous 14 from ’14:
Day 1: In victory lane for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 win