ERIN, Wis. – Phil Mickelson ended the suspense before first round play began in the 117rh U.S. Open. He officially withdrew from the championship, ending speculation that he might make a dramatic last minute arrival at the first tee.
Mickelson had said he would skip the Open to attend his daughter Amanda’s high school graduation in California, but his caddie Jim Mackay was on hand to scout the course this week and Mickelson was pondering the possibilities of a weather delay that might allow for his participation.
A runner-up in the Open a record six times, Mickelson had played in 23 consecutive Opens and 26 overall. His spot in the field was taken by Roberto Diaz of Mexico who hit his first tee shot as Mickelson’s replacement at 2:20 p.m.
Diaz, 30, shot 65-70 in a sectional qualifier in Summit, N.J., and was first alternate from that site. He’s playing in his first U.S. Open.
BLIMP CRASH: A commercial blimp – one not affiliated with either the U.S. Golf Assn. or the tournament broadcast, crashed in an open field a half-mile from the course four hours after play began.
First responders were quick to arrive at the scene, and the pilot was treated for unknown injuries that weren’t thought to be serious. No other people were involved in the incident, which is under investigation from local law enforcement personnel.
At least two of the players saw the blimp go down.
“My caddie made a comment on the ninth hole,’’ said Brandt Snedeker. “He said the blimp is not looking good. I guess it was nose down. I saw a puff of black smoke but didn’t know it was a blimp. Glad everybody is OK.’’
“I saw it happen,’’ said Charley Hoffman. “My caddie said `that thing blew up.’ I didn’t see it explode. I saw it fluttering down through the sky.’’
FIRST AND LAST: Wisconsin native Jordan Niebrugge had the honor of hitting the first tee shot at 6:45 a.m. He shot 1-under-par 71 while playing with former Oklahoma State teammates Talor Gooch and Kevin Dougherty.
“We played solid, all three of us,’’ said Niebrugge. “We had a lot of the OSU family and a lot of friends following us. All of us had a lot of fun.’’
The only player with Chicago connections was the last to tee off. Andy Pope, who grew up in Glen Ellyn and developed his game at Medinah, went off at 2:45 p.m. Though he has only conditional playing privileges on the Web.com Tour Pope is playing in his third straight U.S. Open.
FAMILY TIME: Dru Love, 23-year old son of PGA Tour veteran Davis Love III, bettered par in his first round as a pro and his first in the U.S. Open. He shot 71 and became the third Love to play in the tournament. Davis’ father and Dru’s grandfather, Davis Love Jr., was a famous teaching professional who died in an airplane crash in 1988. He competed in six U.S. Opens.
“The course played easier than I expected,’’ said Dru Love, who used his father as his caddie. “The greens were a lot faster than I imagined they would be. I didn’t think the course was going to be this firm. I thought it would be softer with all the rain.’’
Dru, who played college golf at Alabama, is actually Davis Love IV. He goes by Dru as a shortened version of “quadruple.’’
STILL ROLLING: Stephan Jaeger had two wins in his last three tournaments on the Web.com Tour, the latter being last Sunday in the Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club.
In between his two Web.com wins the Germany-born Jaeger was medalist at his U.S. Open sectional qualifier, and Thursday his solid play continued at Erin Hills. He shot 71 to start his second appearance in the championship.