What-ifs are as infinite as the stars and as worthless as old war bonds. But they can be tantalizing to reflect upon: What if Stewart misses his putt?
Amy Mickelson was back home in Scottsdale, Ariz., about to go into labor with the birth of the couple’s first child. Mackay had carried a beeper all weekend that would register a message from Amy that delivery was imminent; Phil pledged to walk off the golf course at any point to board a private plane and rush home to his wife’s side. Already Amy and her doctor delayed delivery by a day with medication on Saturday night; she watched the final round on the sofa with her pelvis propped up on pillows to prevent the baby dropping any further.
“I’m telling you, Payne would have refused the championship and said, ‘We’ll come back.’ The only fair thing to do under those circumstances would have been to come back at an agreed-to date.” -Tom Meeks, USGA
“I was totally in tears,” she said. “The worst thing that could happen was I have the baby Saturday night and he’s leading the U.S. Open.”
“I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mickelson said. “The U.S. Open is played every year. If that beeper goes off, I’m out of here.”
Golf Digest posed the What-If scenario to Tom Meeks, at the time senior director of rules and competitions with the USGA.
“It’s one of those hypotheticals where we’ll never know what would have happened,” Meeks said in 2005 upon the Open’s return to Pinehurst. “I’m glad the USGA didn’t have to make a decision (if Mickelson had left to be with Amy). I have my own thoughts. I would have said — and I think Payne would have said — ‘You’re not going to give me the U.S. Open because he can’t play tomorrow.’ I’m telling you, Payne would have refused the championship and said, ‘We’ll come back.’ The only fair thing to do under those circumstances would have been to come back at an agreed-to date.”
Alas, we’ll never know. Payne Stewart made sure of it.
Lee Pace is a regular contributor to the Pinehurst Blog. He latest book, “The Golden Age of Pinehurst—The Rebirth of No. 2,” is available in all retail shops at Pinehurst.