CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) — Phil Mickelson was looking forward to some fond memories when he returned to Cherry Hills for the first time in 24 years.
He got one he didn’t expect.
His pro-am round at the BMW Championship was his first time on the course since he beat Manny Zerman for the U.S. Amateur championship in 1990. He had a good group of amateurs with him. His brother Tim, the golf coach at Arizona State, followed them along. Tim Mickelson was joined by a longtime friend who is familiar in these parts – Eric Hoos, who spent 15 years as the University of Denver golf coach.
Hoos looked only vaguely familiar to Mickelson – until his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay made the connection.
Mickelson has missed only one U.S. Open in his professional career – all because of Hoos.
They were part of a large playoff for the final few spots in a sectional qualifier in Ohio in 1993, Mickelson’s first full year on the PGA Tour. There was rain. There was lightning. And when it was down to two players for the last spot – Mickelson and Hoos – there was a delay.
Mickelson picked up the story from there on the first tee as they waited for the green to clear.
“So we come back in the morning and they didn’t cut the greens,” Mickelson said. “He’s got this 50-foot putt and there is so much water that there’s this big rooster tail across the green and he drops it in the hole.”
Mickelson was laughing at this point when he looked over at Hoos, who couldn’t contain a grin.
“So you want passes for the week? You haven’t taken enough from me already?” Mickelson said playfully.
Hoos wasn’t just some amateur with big dreams. He played at Arkansas under Steve Loy – Mickelson’s coach at Arizona State and now his manager – and Hoos was roommates with a big hitter from Arkansas named John Daly. He was playing the Nike Tour that year. He had never played in a major.
“It seems like there were about 12 or 15 guys in a playoff, and it came down to Phil and I for the last spot,” Hoos said as Mickelson finished up his round. “We came back out in the morning. I don’t remember the putt being that long. I seem to remember Phil missing a putt first, and then I got lucky. I do remember this – it was going fast, and there’s no telling where it would have gone if it didn’t hit the back of the hole.”
Hoos earned a ticket to Baltusrol, where he missed the cut with rounds of 75-76. He recalls playing practice rounds with Andy North, who won a U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, and Payne Stewart, who would finish runner-up that week at Baltusrol.
“That was my only U.S. Open,” Hoos said.
Mickelson played plenty more, even if they haven’t quite turned out the right way. He holds the record with six runner-up finishes.
“When we were introduced, I was thinking, `Eric Hoos … I know that name,'” Mickelson said. “He’s a friend of my brother Tim. He’s a great guy. He’s so funny about that. That rooster tail in the water, it was just crazy.”
As for those other memories? Those are still just as sweet.
Mickelson had tried to play Cherry Hills one other time when he was in Colorado and it didn’t work out. He still hasn’t walked through the front of the clubhouse to see the glass cases of every big event, including his 1990 U.S. Amateur. Each champion has donated a club, and there is a left-handed lob wedge by Ping with metal tape on the back. That’s what Mickelson used to hole out a flop shot behind the third green, one of the early introductions to Lefty’s short game.
Mickelson is guaranteed four rounds – there is no cut in the third FedEx Cup playoff event with 69 players in the field. He is No. 56 in the FedEx Cup and would need to finish fourth to have any chance of advancing to the Tour Championship next week.
That’s not a big concern. Mickelson never liked the idea of four straight tournaments, especially ahead of the Ryder Cup. It was far more important to make it to the BMW Championship because of where it is being played this year.
“This is the one of all the four I wanted to play,” he said.