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Phil Mickelson makes great call to be a father first

Phil Mickelson tees off on the first hole during the final round of the St. Jude Classic golf tournament Sunday, June 11, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (Photo by the Associated Press)
Phil Mickelson tees off on the first hole during the final round of the St. Jude Classic golf tournament Sunday, June 11, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (Photo by the Associated Press)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Message about what's important in life will stick with family.

Thursday, June 15, 2017 12:42 pm

Phil Mickelson attended his daughter's high school graduation today, even though he was forced to withdraw from playing in the U.S. Open golf tournament. That makes me a Phil Mickelson fan.

I can't think of a more fitting story heading into Father's Day weekend.

Mickelson had held out hope for a weather delay with the tournament that would have allowed him to take a private jet from Carlsbad, Calif., to Erin Hills, Wis. – he has assets the average father does not, obviously – to make the tee time today. When no weather-related delay materialized, he officially withdrew, replaced by Roberto Diaz of Mexico.

Mickelson is one of the most successful golfers in history. He has made millions (hence, private jets at his disposal) and missing a tournament won't significantly impact his financial bottom line.

The decision impacts his personal bottom line: The importance of fatherhood.

For Amanda Mickelson, the class president who delivered a commencement speech, Phil Mickelson isn't a golfer. He isn't “Lefty.” He's Dad. If Dad wasn't in the audience because he was playing golf, work-related or not, that's a potential lifelong scar.

And even if Mickelson won the U.S. Open, an achievement he has yet to record in his illustrious career, it would have been tinged with regret.

Could he have watched the graduation on his cell phone, thanks to modern technology? He could have. But there's a message here that he sent, and he won't regret it. He chose family first.

There are fathers, certainly, who can't take a day off work because of the lost wages that would result and the hardship it could put on their families. That's an unfortunate reality. But most of us can arrange time off for those special moments that happen only once, if that's what we choose.

It seemed like an easy decision for Mickelson, even though he wished he could be both places at once, or find a way to do both.

But it's still an admirable decision because it required the demonstration of priorities and an element of sacrifice. Mickelson made his decision publicly early, even as he held out hope for a weather-induced schedule change that could have allowed him to do both.

“As I look back on life, this is a moment I'll always cherish and be glad I was present,” Mickelson told reporters.

As “easy” as the choice seemed, it did require personal sacrifice. Mickelson turns 47 on Friday. He hasn't missed a U.S. Open since 1993. He has finished second a record six times, and his time is running out to win it. Only five players have won all four “Grand Slam” events. As a personal achievement for a golfer, that's pretty lofty goal.

At least, Mickelson's choice is easier than for athletes in team sports. Mickelson withdraws and he's the only one affected. But when team sport athletes decide to miss games, the reaction from fans and even teammates aren't as universally positive.

In recent years, Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets and Al Horford of the Boston Celtics have been criticized for choosing to be present for the birth of their children at the expense of games. Sadly for my profession, it's often the media complaining the most. Perspective on what's important in life can be hard to come by for reporters.

Last month, Saruna Jasikevicius, the coach of the Lithuaniana basketball team Zalgiris, saw his interaction with a reporter go viral. His center, Augusto Lima, missed a playoff game to be at the birth of his daughter.

“When you have kids, youngster, you'll understand,” Jasikevicius told the reporter who asked about Lima's absence. “Because that's the height of a human experience. …Do you think basketball is the most important thing in life?”

As parents, there are big and small gestures that demonstrate the most important things in life, and the importance of family.

If you're a parent, you next big decision involving family won't likely involve skipping the U.S. Open, but it could require personal sacrifice. Be like Mickelson. You won't regret it.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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