PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. – Whatever he accomplishes from here on out in a golf career that shimmers with possibility, Charlie Danielson will never know a day quite like Saturday’s stroll around Pebble Beach Golf Links at the 119th U.S. Open, just because it presented so many firsts.
He’d never played before such massive galleries as the thousands and thousands that gathered around him all afternoon. He’d never been followed in step for four hours by two California Highway Patrolmen. He’d never heard such a crowd break into song.
Then again, the 25-year-old professional from Osceola, Wis., never played in a pairing with 45-time PGA Tour winner Phil Mickelson and never played on the weekend at a major championship.
Never mind that he shot a 6-over-par 77 that included two triple bogeys after he had played Thursday and Friday’s opening rounds even par to get into Mickelson’s pairing that teed off at noon California time.
“He’s definitely, probably the best golfer I ever play with,” Danielson said, “and to do it at a U.S. Open on the weekend, it was pretty special.”
Each player parred his first five holes before they went in different directions, Danielson veered toward that 77 with an eight on the par-5 sixth hole after his shot out of a steep fairway bunker got buried in its lip and he had to take an unplayable lie.
Trying to contend in the only major championship he has never won, Mickelson made a birdie-4 on that hole, one day before he celebrates his 49th birthday.
The gallery that gathered around the 17th tee serenaded Mickelson with song a day early.
Asked if anybody sang for him Saturday, Danielson said, “Nope, not my birthday.”
There wasn’t much conversation between the two, but Danielson said he felt Mickelson’s focus and gravity to win a major on an iconic American course where he has won five regular tour events.
Mickelson alternately played some holes cautiously and gambled boldly as only he can on others as fans on every hole shouted his name at him. About 30 family members and friends followed Danielson.
“We were both feeding off each other to start the round, just playing solid,” Danielson said. “He has played here so many times, he knows what he needs to do. This being my first time here, I want to play a little conservatively and avoid the big numbers.”
He did avoid the big numbers that a U.S. Open so often extracts, until Saturday.
Danielson attributed his two triple bogeys to two wrongly chosen clubs after he had made no worse than bogey the first two days. He made a seven at the par-4 sixth hole across a rocky cove after his approach shot landed short in gnarly rough.
“Two very unfortunate holes,” said Danielson, a former Illinois All-America who’s playing his second U.S. Open in four years. “Looking back on it, yeah, I wish I could have done things different, but they weren’t caused by like a bad swing or anything. Obviously, it hurts. I felt like I played great today and that is the good and the bad thing about it.”
Ultimately, Mickelson finished just two shots better than Danielson, with a 4-over 75 after he aggressively tried to get himself back into contention. He bogeyed the par-3 17th and made a triple-bogey eight himself at the closing 18th hole when he hit his driver left into the Pacific Ocean.
The two removed their caps, shook hands and exchanged a few brief words as they walked off together.
“He didn’t finish great, he wasn’t in the mood to talk,” Danielson said. “But he was encouraging, all around. It was a fun experience.”
Mickelson said he didn’t know anything about his Saturday playing partner, but he does know well Danielson’s Hall of Fame caddie Andy Martinez, who has worked the past 50 years carrying for Johnny Miller in the prime of his career and for Tom Lehman since the 1990s.
Danielson’s caddie, Steve Hulka, for PGA Tour events set up the partnership because Hulka already had a job here this week.
“I knew his caddie really well and I really think the world of him,” Mickelson said. “For Andy to be on his bag, I knew he had to be a good guy.”
The PGA Tour is going to do what it’ll do, but wouldn’t another pairing on July 4’s opening day at the 3M Open Championship in Blaine be appropriate. Mickelson has committed to play and 3M Open officials likely will extend Danielson an exemption to play., particularly after his U.S. Open week.
“We’ll see,” Danielson said. “That’s not something I’m expecting.
“I hope to have played well enough the last couple weeks to have developed enough relationships where they’d pick me. Either way, life is going to go on and it’s going to be OK.”