(Reuters) - When Phil Mickelson announced he would choose his daughter’s high school graduation over a potential long-awaited triumph at the U.S. Open, he joined a select group of athletes who have deferred sports glory to prioritise family.
Five times major champion Mickelson is still officially entered for the major championship at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, but the veteran also has other plans.
“My daughter is graduating and she’s the school president, and I’m going to be there,” said Mickelson, whose daughter’s ceremony will take place in Carlsbad, California on the morning of Thursday’s first round.
In March, Australian Jason Day withdrew from the WGC-Match Play because his mind was with his mother battling cancer, while NBA player Jrue Holiday took a leave of absence to be with his pregnant wife dealing with a benign brain tumour.
Those were health-related instances that pulled at emotional heartstrings. But when able-bodied athletes opt out of events to support loved ones the decision can often be a lightning rod for criticism.
Major League Baseball player Daniel Murphy faced flak when he missed the first two games of the 2014 season to be with his wife and newborn baby.
Boston Celtics big man Al Horford sat out of a game due to the birth of his child in November and had to answer for it, while retired National Football League player Charles Tillman set off similar discussion when he suggested he would miss action in 2012.
Mickelson faced his own dilemma at the 1999 U.S. Open when he played the final round as his wife Amy was set to give birth to Amanda, the daughter for whom he is likely to miss this year’s event.
Mickelson, in contention before ultimately finishing second, declared he would withdraw if Amy went into labour, a decision he ultimately did not have to make.
For Mickelson, who turns 47 on Friday, a U.S. Open win would be the ultimate crowning achievement that would vanquish his six runner-up finishes.
But missing the event would also be a critical part of the legacy of a player who has always hoisted family alongside his trophies.
It is an approach he follows in the footsteps of 18-times major champion Jack Nicklaus, who would fly home during tournaments to support his children at their events.
It is a philosophy Mickelson understands: “I mean (the U.S. Open is) the tournament I want to win the most, but this is one of those moments where you look back on life and you just don’t want to miss it,” he said.
“I’ll be really glad that I was there and present.”
Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Both