Through her eyes
Amy Mickelson recalls her emotional week in 1999, watching the U.S. Open from home as she awaited the arrival of their first child
June 09, 2014
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Amy Mickelson's obstetrician didn't really get it. He wasn't a golfer so the names of the tournaments Amy had so diligently entered into the pages of her leather day-planner -- "how old school is that?" the tech-savvy wife says now -- meant nothing to the doctor.
The year was 1999. The first of Amy's three children, a girl that she and her husband Phil were going to name Amanda, was due at the end of June. Until Amanda arrived, though, golf was the center of their universe as the couple criss-crossed the United States while Phil made his name on the PGA TOUR.
"Now we work around five schedules," Amy said. "But back then it was so easy to focus on golf."
In the latter stages of her pregnancy with Amanda, the gregarious, petite blonde still traveled with her husband, who had already won 13 TOUR events. She was basically on bed rest, though, so Phil would go to the grocery store to make sure she'd have food in the room, then tuck her in before he went to play. He'd ask the housekeepers to check on Amy, too.
"He was very loving like that," she recalled.
As the due date neared, Amy began experiencing pre-term labor; it was more than a little unsettling for her. Her doctor's appointments began taking on even more importance -- particularly with the season's second major, the U.S. Open at Pinehurst's famed No. 2 course, just weeks away.
Amy remembers one visit with particular clarity. The doctor wasn't at all sure Amanda would wait until the end of the month, so he looked at the day planner Amy had open, like always, on her lap.
"I'm not sure whether you will be able to go to that Open tournament," the doctor told Amy. "She could come by then -- but you'll probably be OK for the Buick."
"No offense to the Buick," she said, "but this is all about the U.S. Open."
The Mickelsons now faced a dilemma. Should Phil go ahead and play the U.S. Open, or should he stay back home and be with Amy?
They didn't see it as having to choose one or the other, though. No way would Phil would miss playing at Pinehurst. And no way was he going to miss the birth of his first child. So they came up with a plan.
The couple chartered a plane which was gassed up and ready all week so Phil could have a fighting chance of getting to Arizona in time if Amy went into labor. Phil's long-time caddie Bones MacKay carried a beeper and Amy was under strict instructions to call. If the call was made, Phil would head home. Immediately.
"The main thing was we were serious about being parents. We really wanted to be parents," Amy said firmly.
"But there was just a lot of unknown. We weren't sure whether she would make it to the due date."
Amy started seeing her obstetrician on a daily basis, relying on his advice to help determine where Phil should be. The Tuesday of U.S. Open week, he finally gave Phil the OK to make the cross-country trip to North Carolina. At the same time, the doctor told Amy to go home with her mother and spend the day laying in bed or on the couch with her pelvis up propped up by pillows.
"But don't walk around too much," he warned his patient.
All the while, Amy recalls, her husband was at his most positive. He told her he was going to bring home the U.S. Open trophy and then they're going to have the baby.
"It's going to be the best time of our lives," Phil told Amy.
"Phil was very calm and reassuring," Amy says now. "You can picture how sweet Phil would be in that situation."
On Wednesday, the day before the first round at Pinehurst, Amy went to see the doctor again. This time, he wasn't at all reassuring.
"If you had looked like this yesterday I'd probably have told Phil not to go," Amy remembers him saying. "I was so emotional. I cried. He put me under strict instructions: Lay there on the couch and pile the pillows up."
Thinking back about that moment, Amy says almost wistfully, "We don't have it anymore, but I will never forget that couch."
When Phil called that night, Amy didn't tell him what the doctor had said. All week long, every time the couple talked, she'd tell him she was fine.
"Then I'd hang up and burst into tears," she said.
Meanwhile, Phil kept up his end of the bargain.
He opened with a 67 and was in a four-way tie for the lead. A 70 in the second round kept him tied at the top of the board. He shot 73 on Saturday and was one stroke behind the leader, Payne Stewart.
That night, while her husband was sleeping on the eve of what could be a career-defining day, Amy started having contractions. They were close -- "scary close," she says -- and painful, too. So her mother and her brother took her to the hospital.
"I don't know if emotions can cause something like that," Amy says now. "But they put me on the monitor and the doctor comes in, calm, cool and collected. He was funny, charismatic. He calmed everything down. He gave me an IV with (a drug) to slow down the contractions. They told me if the baby is coming, it will come but if not, it will slow things down."
The nurses kept coming into Amy's room and trying to reassure her. They didn't know her husband was a golfer who was on the verge of a breakthrough victory in his country's national championship -- some 2,100 miles away.
"The nurses would come in and say, you sweet little thing, you are going to become a mother tonight," Amy recalled. "That baby is coming. And I would burst into tears. I didn't know whether I should call him or not.
"It is probably as close to having a baby as you could get without having a baby."
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Amy and company went back to the house. Her doctor told her she was in the home stretch, but she needed to calm down. She went home with a sleeping pill and tried to get some rest.
Phil called Sunday morning before he teed off in the final round. Amy decided not tell him that she had gone to the hospital. Today, she would definitely have been upfront about everything. But back then?
"That was a different time," she said. "Our world was centered around golf. He was very determined."
Just like a few days earlier, Phil told his wife that he would win the U.S. Open, then they would have the baby. Once again, he left her with these words: "This will be the best time of our life."
But Phil didn't win. He had a one-stroke lead with three holes to play but went to the 18th trailing Stewart by a shot. The leader was in trouble, though, and he needed to make a 15-footer for par to seal the victory.
Stewart did, celebrating the putt, balanced on one leg, jabbing his fist into the air in jubilation. The pose is immortalized in a bronze statue behind the 18th green at No. 2.
And then Stewart did something no one watching in person or on TV will ever forget. He walked over to the disappointed Mickelson and took Phil's head in both his hands.
Across the country, Amy was crying. Actually, she had been crying since the 15th hole, the combination of her pregnancy and her husband being in contention down the stretch leaving her unable to contain her emotions.
"It was very, very emotional watching it," Amy recalled. "Payne makes this big putt at the end and it was kind of surreal. It never occurred to me that Phil wasn't going to win. So that was hard.
"But as we all know, Payne was the epitome of class at that moment. He walked over and said all those beautiful things to Phil about being a father at the same moment he was winning a major championship. It was incredible."
That fall, Payne Stewart would die in a bizarre plane crash, one month after playing with Phil on what has become an increasingly rare victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
Amy remembers Stewart that week as being in a "good place ... a very balanced, centered man." He was the last one standing at the parties and the first up in the mornings, roaming the halls of the team hotel, wearing in baggy pants and carrying a boom box blaring the best Bruce Springsteen could offer.
"We all know what happened a month later," Amy said. "I am covered with goosebumps right now, getting choked up thinking about it. Him being the man he was at the time, it was his destiny. It was just meant to be.
"That major was meant to be Payne's."
Phil got back to Arizona on Sunday night. He was disappointed. Amy was drained. The next morning she had contractions again. She kept her daily appointment with the obstetrician, who at first told her to go home and relax, then after further examination, suggested she pack a bag.
"You're going to have that baby now," he said.
The Mickelsons checked into the hospital under an assumed name. The labor was textbook, just a few pushes. Amanda was finally ready to meet her parents and she arrived around 6 p.m. Monday night.
"That moment of her coming, that moment when we gave birth, Phil was there, he was the one pulling her out and cutting the cord," Amy recalled. "To this day that was the most spiritual moment of my life. What Phil and I feel about having a child when you are with the right person -- it was such an amazing moment as a couple. Such a beautiful, bonding moment.
"I remember never feeling anything close to that in my life."
Amy and Phil never talked about what happened at Pinehurst No. 2 that day. Why ruin the moment? Their focus was Amanda. Like most new parents, they were a little overwhelmed when the doctors told Amy that she and the baby were discharged.
"First of all, we couldn't believe we were leaving the hospital with Amanda," Amy said with a laugh. "We were like, they trust us, they are letting us take the baby home. It wasn't until we left the hospital that we began to learn how the story had caught wind.
"I think a lot of people connected with Phil or connected with us when they were going through that moment, too. I think it worked out perfectly. It was perfect that Payne won. It was his destiny. And it was typical Amanda. ... She made everything OK. She's more like Phil. Sophia is more like me. Amanda is a very balanced, big picture kind of person.
"I smile about it now. ... It really did end up kind of being the perfect ending for us -- to be able to duck into the hospital took away the heartache from the day before."
Phil's runner-up finish to Stewart turned out to be his first of six -- to date -- at the U.S. Open without a victory. He has gone on to win five other majors. His win at last summer's Open Championship gave him the third leg of a career Grand Slam.
Now he just needs to win the U.S. Open. Fifteen years after coming so close at Pinehurst No. 2, he returns this week. The script is set. But the ending sometimes doesn't turn out the way it should.
"The U.S. Open isn't really built for him," Amy acknowledged. "You always think of Phil with the Masters-type set-up (because) he sometimes hits very few fairways. ... But he finds a way. It would be a storybook ending if it was Pinehurst for us. But if not there, I feel like it will happen somewhere."
Golf isn't always top-of-mind for the couple's three children -- Sophia is 12 and Evan 11, and of course Amanda turns 15 later this month. All were all born before Phil won his first major at the 2004 Masters.
"What is important to them about Phil is the dad he is and how much fun they have with him," Amy said. "They've been there for all his major wins. But Phil says the first time he thought they looked at him and thought he was cool was at The Open Championship -- and then it was all back to normal."
A year ago, on the eve of the U.S. Open, Phil flew home to San Diego to hear Amanda speak at her eighth grade graduation. The last week of school in California, which coincides with the national championship each year, is filled with excitement, filled with summertime farewells, final grades and signing yearbooks -- and capped off by Father's Day. Phil's 44th birthday this year is the following Monday.
"There's been a lot of Opens when it was during the week and he's been serenaded," Amy says. "So we have a lot of memories surrounding the U.S. Open.
"But that 1999 week -- my leather day-timer and the beeper -- that tells you how long ago it was. But it's fun thinking about it. It was one of the most special weeks of my life, even though he didn't win."
Maybe Phil was right after all. The best time of their life, indeed.
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