Roberto Diaz was thrilled to be the Phil-in.
The 30-year-old journeyman finally got to play in his first major Thursday, replacing Phil Mickelson after Lefty withdrew from the U.S. Open. He finished at even par after a birdie on the par-5 18th, seven strokes behind Rickie Fowler but ahead of major champions Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.
“No. 1 in my career, for sure,” Diaz said of the experience. “Playing with Steve Stricker was amazing. Hometown hero, the crowds were unbelievable, the first tee was amazing. Yeah, I think it was a good — really good experience.”
Mickelson had stayed home in California to attend oldest daughter Amanda’s high school graduation, which began about 2½ hours before his afternoon tee time. He had hoped for bad weather to give him a chance to get to Erin Hills, but he needed a delay of at least four hours and there was no chance of that on a picture-perfect day.
He withdrew about the time the first groups were going off, and Diaz got word at 7 a.m. that he would be playing the U.S. Open. He went back to bed for a few hours and then returned to the course about noon.
“I was very excited, yeah,” Diaz said.
Especially because he had convinced himself that Mickelson would find a way to play.
“I thought Phil was going to come. I always did,” said Diaz, who had been the first alternate twice before, on the Web.com Tour. “I didn’t want to put my hopes up and then see my hopes go down. But I was preparing not to play, too. I prepared the whole week to play. But I was prepared not to play.”
Alternates were allowed to play practice rounds this year, thanks to a rules change by the U.S. Golf Association. Diaz said he played nine holes Monday, 18 on Tuesday and five-plus Wednesday before storms rolled in.
That prepared him for the course – but not the nerves he felt.
“As soon as I walked to the first tee,” he said.
Diaz had bogeys on his first and third hole, but a birdie on four settled him down.
“He righted the ship nicely, and he played some really solid golf, especially on the back nine,” Stricker said. “Great kid, too. I was talking all around with him and he’s a great kid and I wish him the best. He’s fun to play with.”
Not bad for a Phil-in.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.