In the manner of an insinuating nightclub magician, Phil Mickelson
shuffles a deck, deftly fans out the cards, instructs a visitor
to pick out a card (any card), memorize it, reinsert it and hand
back the deck.
"I haven't once looked at your card, is that correct?" he asks.
"That is correct."
Mickelson turns over the cards, studies them for a moment and
"Oh, wait a minute," he says, "is this it?" He holds up his left
palm, upon which is neatly stamped in ink a 5 and the symbol for
diamonds. His mark's card, of course.
A magician with cards and, on occasion, with every club in his
big, black bag, Mickelson--a.k.a. Lefty, a.k.a. World No. 2,
a.k.a. the Best Player Never to Have Won a Major--is currently
pulling off the neatest trick of all. Going into this week's PGA
Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.,
this millionaire who flies to most tournaments on his own plane,
this privileged guy with the gorgeous blonde wife and two
cherubic daughters (Amy Mickelson just found out that she is
pregnant again, and Phil is hoping for "a sleeve of daughters"),
this sweet-swinging member of the establishment in the ultimate
establishment sport has somehow become ... the People's Choice.
His ascendancy to that station had been apparent for some time,
but it was quite literally in the air during the U.S. Open in
June. Chants of LET'S GO MICK-EL-SON! boomed across the plains
of Bethpage Black on Long Island, as Mickelson, winner of 21 PGA
Tour events but no majors, staged another grinding, grimly
contested yet ultimately unsuccessful charge at Tiger Woods.
Last month Mickelson stumbled to a 66th-place finish at
Muirfield (somewhat predictably, since he has never finished
higher than 11th in the British Open), but he will stroll onto
the grounds at Hazeltine carrying with him the hopes of the
Well, perhaps that's a bit strong. It goes without saying that
Woods commands larger galleries, and others engaged in that
heated battle to stand on the rung directly below Tiger (British
Open champion Ernie Els, former No. 1 David Duval, 22-year-old
Sergio Garcia) have their full-throated advocates. But Mickelson
is clearly the Tiger-chaser of choice. Watching Mickelson spray
one of the drives that helped produce the second-day 76 that set
him back at Muirfield, a British Open marshal shook his head
ruefully. "Everyone over here pulls so hard for that lad," he
said. Similar sentiments are pervasive among the gallery at every
tournament in which Mickelson, a lad of 32 in his 10th full year
on the Tour, competes.
In that respect there is a curious disconnect between his adoring
public on the one hand, and his more skeptical peers and the
press on the other. Perhaps that is not surprising since
Mickelson himself is a walking paradox. He looks and acts, for
the most part, like the button-down president of the local
Rotary, but he has a reputation, well deserved, as a canny,
go-for-it-all gambler. He plays everything to win, from gin rummy
with his wife to Ping-Pong with his caddie, yet it's being said
with increasing regularity that he doesn't have the will to win,
that he's comfortable and happy (which he is), and content with
being one of Tiger's well-compensated Sunday stooges (which he's
not). His deftness around the greens is much celebrated--hardly a
hacker alive doesn't invoke Mickelson's name after an L wedge
snuggles near the hole--but he's among the game's longest hitters
and, moreover, a sometimes unreliable putter. Doesn't it figure,
then, that the man called Lefty is actually a righty?
Golf journalists praise Mickelson as an intelligent player who
will show up in the pressroom after both good rounds and bad and
who will usually have something thoughtful to say. A number of
these same journalists, though, doubt Mickelson's sincerity, and
Tour insiders have compared him with Eddie Haskell, the unctuous,
two-faced brat from Leave It to Beaver.
Among his fellow pros Mickelson is no loner, as is, say, Mark
O'Meara's favorite fishing bud. Mickelson will hang around the
locker room to schmooze, as opposed to Woods who, as veteran Nick
Price puts it, "is like a rock star who comes into the locker
room for two minutes and is gone again." Mickelson's playing
style is defended by, among others, Greg Norman, another
aggressive player who said not long ago, "I hope Phil doesn't
change. He's going to win his share of tournaments, and he's
going to lose his share of tournaments, and that's it." Yet an
anti-Mickelson feeling is detectable, especially among the older
set. (That was true in the beginning with Woods as well, but he
has earned universal respect simply by winning; criticize Tiger
personally and you sound jealous; criticize his game and you
sound like a blithering idiot.) In fact, dissing Lefty has become
a bit of a cottage industry lately. "Phil's a nice player, he's a
good player, but he's not a great champion," Jack Nicklaus said
before this year's Masters, giving voice to a sentiment also
tossed about by Gary Player. (Arnold Palmer has made similar
comments but has also supported Mickelson's gung-ho style,
probably because that's the way Arnie played.) "He's gifted
physically, but he's got a ways to go mentally," says Price,
still a force on the Tour at 45. At this year's British Open one
veteran disparagingly said, "Mickelson has more talent in his
little finger than I've got in my whole body, but until he
changes his ways on the golf course and becomes more of a
strategist, he won't reach his true potential." John Daly goes
out of his way to praise Mickelson's talent but makes a point
that he would not trade his two majors (the 1991 PGA and the '95
British Open) for all of Mickelson's victories and the $21.5
million he's earned in purses (including $3.7 million in 2002).
When Price says, "I'm not sure how much the other guys [besides
Tiger] want to be Number 1," as he did recently and has done
several times in the past, he is now talking primarily about
Mickelson. In the opinion of the older vets who believe that
Lefty has not sufficiently retooled his game to become a major
winner, Mickelson is demonstrating not only an unwillingness to
rise to the Tiger challenge but also a contempt for the game
The vast majority of fans, however, couldn't care less what the
insiders think. Mickelson is like a popular Broadway musical, a
Cats, panned by the critics yet beloved by the masses. Mickelson
signs everything (except golf balls), slaps a frozen smile on his
face for every photograph and makes all his shanking pro-am
partners feel like a million bucks. Woods, No. 1, is iconic, an
object to gaze upon in awe as he marches, cold-bloodedly, to the
winner's circle, never going pupil-to-pupil with a single fan.
Mickelson, No. 2, is human, often disappointed but perpetually
striving, earnestly smiling and signing and hugging his pretty
young wife as he makes his honest run at the top spot.
Mickelson is as surprised by his status as the People's Choice
("All I can tell you is that it's awfully nice"), but he is also
perturbed by the criticism he's received from the press and some
of his peers. He does not respond to his critics with the sarcasm
of a Duval or the smoldering anger of a Colin Montgomerie, but he
is emphatic about this: He believes he has made significant
changes to his game.
And, he says, he will win a major. Not just one but several.
Pro golf has strayed so far from its hardscrabble hustler roots
that millionaires now play bogus "skins games" at no risk to
their bank accounts, and a man who wears vertical stripes and
turns up the bill of his cap is an iconoclast of the first order.
So it's not a giant leap to turn Philip Alfred Mickelson--a player
who ambles languidly up every fairway, who has never thrown a
club, who is not particularly chatty and who sometimes looks
vaguely uncomfortable in the spotlight--into a swashbuckler.
During practice rounds Mickelson has been known to make
spontaneous wagers ("Bet I get down in two," he might say when
he's 230 yards from the hole) that are overheard by the gallery.
Famously, he won preseason bets on the Baltimore Ravens to win
the Super Bowl and the Arizona Diamondbacks to win the World
Series. Sitting in the Firestone clubhouse watching a playoff at
the NEC Invitational last August, Mickelson had a hunch and
offered 25-to-1 odds that Jim Furyk would hole a bunker shot.
Mike Weir took him up on it, and after Furyk's shot disappeared
into the hole, Mickelson collected $500. "Phil's the kind of guy
who will bet you his luggage comes off the airport carousel
first," says Bob Verdi, a writer for Golf Digest who knows
Mickelson well, "if he ever flew commercial, that is."
He doesn't, of course. A pilot flies the golfer, his family, a
babysitter and his caddie to most tournaments on Mickelson's
Gulfstream-II, and Lefty is himself a licensed pilot, as well as
the son of one. Amy has also taken flying lessons and plans to
resume them after the birth of their third child, a stouthearted
attitude considering that her husband, during what was supposed
to be a routine flight, once stir-fried her insides by going into
a Lazy 8, followed by an intentional stall and dead nosedive. Add
to that picture the cocky little spin Mickelson frequently gives
his club before he lines up a shot and his fire-at-the-pin
playing style, and the portrait of a riverboat gambler is
complete. You got a better nominee on this button-down Tour?
Mickelson cringes at the description of himself as an "adrenaline
junkie," but he rather enjoys being known as a risk taker.
Nevertheless, he resents questions about his gambling. He was
reprimanded by the Tour after his bet with Weir was made public
by a reporter who overheard it in the locker room, so don't even
get him started on that subject. And he says that reports that
his Super Bowl bet paid seven figures are wildly exaggerated. In
fact, a friendly "syndicate" of 28 made the $20,000 preseason bet
on the Ravens collectively. It included his mother-in-law, Renee
McBride, various friends and even a couple of members of the
media. Mickelson is extremely tight with McBride, whom Amy calls
"Phil's closest female friend." They are both sports
addicts--Renee is a weekly guest on a sports talk show on a Salt
Lake City radio station--who burn up the phone lines before
kickoff on Sunday. The syndicate members invested according to
their means, so Mickelson ended up winning about $50,000 and his
mother-in-law about $2,000, which she used to buy furniture.
While it's true that Mickelson rarely plays friendly golf without
some kind of bet involved, it seems safe to conclude that his
gambling is no more outrageous, or threatening to his substantial
nest egg, than that of his fellow Tour pros. He made frequent
trips to Las Vegas when he was in college but now goes only
occasionally, usually with Amy, and plays baccarat. His passion
for poring over NFL agate (he spent much of his 12-hour flight to
the British Open studying preseason magazines, committing to
memory the most obscure player moves), suggests a gambling jones,
as do the six TVs (including an 80-incher), each with its own
satellite receiver, that beam every NFL game into the Mickelson
house in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. But he says he rarely bets on
pro football, the preseason Super Bowl wager being an exception.
"You can't win betting the NFL," he says, and Mickelson gambles
to win. The real reason he's so absorbed in pro football is that
Mickelson is a sports geek who loves being the only one in the
room who can go three deep on every NFL team. "I see a depth
chart on paper," he says, "and it's like a snapshot. I remember
everything." Trust him on that: Unless you have 30 minutes to
spare, do not ask the man a question about pro football.
Indeed, Mickelson has a more general tendency to demonstrate that
he's the smartest guy in the room. While playing catch at his
rented house two days before the British Open--Mickelson usually
takes a baseball and a couple of gloves along on the road with
him--he related the pitches he was throwing (righthanded,
remember) to principles expounded by Stephen Hawking in The
Universe in a Nutshell, which he was reading at the time, and
described them thusly: "I'm going to put less lift on the ball,
so there's not as much oscillation, so it's going to look like a
screwball but won't move like one." That's a rough paraphrase
anyway. Thirty minutes of this and his catcher couldn't decide
whether to be more impressed with the presumptuousness of
Mickelson's commentary or the fact that his pitches, for the most
part, did exactly what he said they were going to do.
More significant than either his gambling or his
smarter-than-thou attitude, though, is the issue of how his
gambler's instincts affect Mickelson's golf. To determine that,
it's necessary to study the roots of his playing style. His
background in Southern California, where he grew up across the
freeway from San Diego State, was solidly middle-class. Father
Phil flew planes, mother Mary took care of the kids and later
returned to work, running her own home-care company to help
subsidize the golfing passions of Phil and his older sister, Tina
(who has been a club pro and is now collaborating on a golf book
with new-age guru Deepak Chopra), and younger brother, Tim (who
is now the assistant golf coach at San Diego State). There's
little doubt that Mickelson got the lion's share of his athletic
chops from his father, who was selected to fly with the Blue
Angels, taught fighter pilots, captained the ski team at Chico
(Calif.) State and played every sport he tried with an effortless
grace. But there's more to it than that. From an early age, Mary
Mickelson recalls, her older son was extremely stubborn. The
oft-told story of how Phil became a lefthanded golfer--he was
mirror imaging his father's swing--reflects that. Father would
kneel behind son and set him up righthanded, but son would
quickly reassume his lefty stance and hit it with the back of the
club. This may be a cut-down club, but I'm going to play this
game exactly how I want to! Little Phil finally just wore down
his dad. The young Mickelson was rarely openly defiant but often
tested limits. "Before he was a year old," his mother says, "we
knew we had a problem on our hands." Mary says she sees that same
independent streak in Sophia, Phil and Amy's 10-month-old. "He'll
see what we went through," she says, laughing. "That makes me so
Mary, more than her husband, was responsible for stoking her
son's competitive fire. "Go out and have fun," the elder Phil
would say to his son as he left for a tournament. Mary would then
go over, hug him and whisper in his ear, "Have fun, but be sure
to win." Mary Mickelson, 5'8" and 60 years old, is the starting
point guard on the San Diego Stars, who last year won the
three-on-three gold medal for 50-and-over teams at the Senior
Olympics. "We're going after it again next year," she says. Three
years ago, mother and son schooled a pair of surprised
high-school-age males in two-on-two at the YMCA. A recent morning
in San Diego (she and her husband still live in the house where
they raised their children) found Mary following this agenda:
work a few hours pressing flowers, her new hobby, then go out and
shoot baskets at the hoop-and-glass backboard in the driveway.
The comparison with the world's No. 1 is unavoidable: Earl Woods
is generally recognized as the stage father of his son's career,
but those close to Woods say that it was his mother, Tida, who
instilled in him his iron will to win.
Though he was never invited to swing a club on The Mike Douglas
Show, Mickelson, like Woods, was a precocious striker of the
ball. Mickelson has seen eight-millimeter films of his swing as a
beginner and says it's strikingly similar to his swing
today--long, rhythmic, generally flawless. In golf-rich San Diego
he routinely beat the older kids. When he was six, his parents
would drop him off at a par-3 course where he would play all day.
He got his first complete set of clubs at seven, after finishing
second in the 10-and-under division of a San Diego Junior Golf
Association tournament. He was good at other sports and played
them on the sandlots from time to time, but it was golf that
captivated him; like Woods, his love for the game and his
willingness to work at it never flagged. When Phil was nine, he
announced to his parents, "I want to play golf for a job," and
that never changed. He won the '90 U.S. Amateur at age 20, three
NCAA championships ('89, '90 and '92) at Arizona State and the
'91 Northern Telecom Open as a college junior, birdieing the 72nd
hole to beat Tom Purtzer and Bob Tway by one stroke. When he
turned pro at the '92 U.S. Open, his was the most heralded debut
since Nicklaus came waddling out of Ohio State in a porkpie hat
and remained so until Tiger was uncaged in '96.
So why wouldn't Phil Mickelson have unshakable confidence in his
own game? His early and frequent success fed Mickelson's
unshakable sense that there is no tree so tall, no water so wet,
no rough so high, no pin placement so formidable that he cannot
master it. During one of the first tournaments in which he
caddied for Mickelson, Jim (Bones) Mackay observed a perilous lie
and suggested punching a seven-iron under the trees. "I was
thinking," said Phil, "I'll hit a nine-iron over the trees."
Which is what he did. Mickelson and Mackay have come to an
understanding that once a year the caddie gets to veto a
Mickelson shot selection. Mackay used it two years ago at the
Compaq Classic in New Orleans when Lefty, caught in high rough,
wanted to try a skip shot over water.
As important as competition in the Mickelson household, though,
were rules. If you misbehaved before bedtime, you couldn't play
golf the next day. If you threw a club, your clubs were taken
away. (Phil says he never threw one.) If you were at the dinner
table, you were required to speak at least two sentences about
your day. If you neglected to put the napkin on your lap, you
were required to leave the table and count to 10 before you could
return. At a restaurant in San Diego one night 10-year-old Phil
caught his father with a napkinless lap and called him on it; dad
got up, went out the door and could be heard counting outside.
Mickelson's boyhood was about actions and consequences, and he
and his wife are raising their children the same way.
In Mickelson's world there is a prescribed way of doing things, a
path. You can use your celebrity to get good seats, but you pay
for your tickets, as he does when he watches friends like Jason
Kidd of the New Jersey Nets and Curt Schilling of the
Diamondbacks. You get out your wallet to pay for golf, too, when
you're not competing. On the Monday before the British Open,
Mickelson took Mackay and two friends to St. Andrews for 18 holes
and paid full freight. You acknowledge good shots by your playing
partners, even if you don't feel like it. En route to a
disheartening double bogey during his second round at Muirfield,
Mickelson nodded his head toward Hal Sutton, whose approach had
settled three feet from the cup on number 14. "Good shot in
there, Hal," Mickelson said without much feeling. You interact
with the members of your pro-am foursome, make them feel like
part of the team. At the International at Castle Pines near
Denver two weeks ago, one of Mickelson's pro-am partners, Jeff
Akers, introduced Mickelson to his two sons. "You know what Phil
said to them?" Akers reported. "'Thanks for coming out and
watching your dad play.' Can you imagine that?" If someone is
loyal to you, you are loyal in return. His 10-year working
relationship with Mackay, a rarity on the Tour, is a study in
mutual loyalty. Caddies are notorious gossips, but Mackay, an
engaging and popular man among pros and caddies, will reveal
almost nothing about his boss.
"How did Phil play today?" Bones might be asked by a reporter.
"Is this off the record?" Bones asks.
"Yes," says the reporter.
"Real well," answers Bones.
Rules. There are always rules. Without exception Mickelson will
refuse to sign autographs during a round, but he will almost
always fill every single request afterward. "O.K., I'm going to
sign for 25 minutes and walk out along that path, so have the car
over there," he'll say to Bones. Signing is what you do, even if
you're thinking about your escape route as you do it. Mickelson
has been criticized for being insincere, as he stands there
gripping and grinning among fans for as long as half an hour, and
lately he has even been accused of doing it specifically to
accentuate one difference between himself and Woods. That is
nonsense: Mickelson has mingled with fans from his first moment
on Tour, and if there is a studied aspect to his amiability,
well, so be it. As he signed all manner of stuff after a round at
the International, a woman, practically in tears, said to
Mickelson, "Do you know what this means to us, to have you out
here signing and talking to us after every round?" Yes, madame,
he knows exactly what it means.
But now the boy who knows all the rules, the smartest boy in the
room, the boy who just knows he can hit his nine-iron over those
trees, has someone he just can't beat. What does he do? How does
he act? Mickelson is widely recognized as a player--perhaps the
only top player--who hasn't capitulated to Woods, who refuses to
worship at the altar. Depending on which way the wind is blowing,
this is either a good thing (demonstrating a competitive ardor
that others, such as Duval, now a member of the Tiger cult, lack)
or a bad thing (demonstrating jealousy toward the one player who
is not only more talented than everyone else but who has also
modified his game to a degree that others, particularly
Mickelson, have not). But isn't it refreshing when an athlete
retains some degree of animosity toward a fellow competitor, no
matter its source?
One might more easily pry the nuclear launch codes out of the
Department of Defense than find out what Woods thinks of
something besides course conditions or his putting stroke, so
inquiries about Mickelson would be futile and a sincere answer
impossible to ascertain in any case. The belief on the Tour is
that the main thing Tiger and Lefty agree on is their mutual
enmity. There are already rumors that Woods will not play in the
World Cup at Vista Vallarta in Mexico in December because the
format mandates that a player be teamed with the countryman
closest to him in the rankings, which would partner up Woods and
Mickelson. Lefty is understandably weary of talking about Tiger,
who not only dominates Mickelson's competitive life but also
eclipses his accomplishments. His popularity among the masses
notwithstanding, Mickelson sometimes feels like he has become a
hood ornament, barely noticed as the Tiger limo speeds down the
highway, and the fact that his peers are in the same position is
small consolation to the World's No. 2. "Every question directed
at Phil and every story written on him is eventually about
Tiger," says T.R. Reinman, a golf writer turned p.r. man for
Mickelson and other players, "so every match is an away match.
That gets old."
The solution, of course, is both simple and daunting: Tame Tiger
and the world is yours. Mickelson knows that he must address the
subject of Tiger, so he does, gamely and at length. Some of his
praise of Tiger is by rote. Mickelson has repeatedly credited
Woods for the increased purses and interest he has brought to the
game and repeatedly said that he and Tiger are not close largely
because they live different lives, Mickelson as a married man
with children, Woods a bachelor. Mickelson may have once been
reluctant to acknowledge Woods's primacy but not now. "There's
only one guy I'm worried about in the field, that I feel can beat
me at any time," he says. Mickelson believes that Woods has
changed the way that everyone approaches majors. "You may have
the idea you can hang around and wait for him to make a mistake,"
says Mickelson, "but he simply doesn't make a mistake. So you
have to attack the golf course right away, all because of him."
He attributes Woods's superiority to two things: "His strength
allows him to hit shots that the rest of us simply can't hit. And
he's mentally tougher than any of us."
Ever so subtly, though, Mickelson will point to what he sees as
one crucial difference between them. "Tiger has always wanted to
become the greatest player who's ever lived," he says. Mickelson
lets that hang in the air, like one of his stratospheric wedges.
Has that ever been your goal? he is asked. He thinks about it for
a minute. "Not like that. Not with the kind of focus he's put
into it. To me, there are more important things in life than
winning a bunch of majors and winning a bunch of tournaments.
Now, I love winning and I love competing, but there's more to
life than that. I don't want to shortchange myself or my
potential. But it's not like I've been one-dimensional in my
approach to the game, that the one and only thing is to become
the greatest player of all time."
That might sound like the last refuge of the vanquished, the
ultimate rationalization for surrendering to Woods. Certainly the
immortal Greek chorus of Nicklaus-Palmer-Player would think so,
as would Price and others. Mickelson knows how his words will be
taken even as he says them. But he says them anyway. His life
with Amy and their daughters is that wonderful, especially when
you consider that a fertility expert once told his wife that she
couldn't have children. A snapshot: From birth, Sophia did not
sleep through the night, wailing loudly and persistently. Several
weeks ago Phil announced he was going to remedy the problem, and
for three nights in a row he got up from his bed at 15-minute
intervals, went to her room and talked to her without picking her
up or feeding her. Amy listened to his commentary on a monitor.
Sophia, this is your daddy. It is not morning. The moon and stars
are out, not the sun. You need sleep to be a healthy baby.
Perhaps he even showed her a card trick or ran through the Denver
Broncos special teams. Whatever, Daddy won the day, and Sophia is
now a sleeper.
But though he has taken time away from the Tour to be with his
family--"Did Phil have the baby?" was a familiar joke line around
the Tour when Mickelson missed five months around the birth of
Sophia last October--he feels it's nonsense to say he hasn't won a
major because he's too content, or, more to the point,
complacent. "A lot of times it's when an athlete's heyday is over
that he decides it's time to get to know his kids, to teach them
how to swim and watch them grow up," says Amy. "Well, Phil is
doing those things right now."
Mickelson, you must understand, doesn't look at his career and
see a guy who has been unable to win the big one. He sees a guy
who was never good enough to win one until lately, a guy who,
despite having been anointed one of the great ones a decade ago,
has shown steady improvement to get near the top. He sees a guy
who, before the disappointing British Open, had finished second,
third and second in the last three majors. He sees a guy who,
despite having heard some pointed insults about a soft upper
body, believes he has done what's necessary to get in shape for
72-hole challenges against Woods. (His routine includes
stretching with an exercise ball to strengthen his abs and back.)
Standing up, he holds a dish towel above his head, straight out,
and lowers it backward all the way to his hips, his answer to
Woods's celebrated workout regimen. "My body has adapted to what
I need to do to play golf," he says.
Most important, he sees a guy who, critics notwithstanding,
believes he has made the kinds of modifications to his game that
put him in position to win a major. "The scoring average I have
in the last five U.S. Opens [71.15, a shade less than a stroke
over par] would disprove the notion that I can't play a
conservative style of golf," he says. Mickelson has worked on
hitting the ball lower and with less spin, so he can approach a
pin in different ways, rather than always hitting it behind the
hole and saucing it backward. He employs more three-woods and
long irons off the tee than he used to. He has conferred with
short game guru Dave Pelz on putting into the wind. Lately he has
even been working with a sports psychologist on trying to improve
what he calls his "mental focus and mental stamina for 72 holes."
Maybe I do need help, he seems to have decided. It would be
fascinating to know how much the subject of No. 1 comes up in
Mickelson's discussions with the psychologist. Els recently
revealed that he solicited the help of Jos Vanstiphout, a sports
psychologist from Belgium, partly because he had expended too
much mental energy worrying about Woods.
But Mickelson carries a mental burden that Els (two U.S. Opens
and the British), Duval (the 2001 British) and Davis Love III
(the '97 PGA), among others, do not: Before he can truly turn his
thoughts to chasing down Tiger, he must bag his major, which
would carry with it a free pass into history. Not every golfer
who wins a major is great--sorry, Paul Lawrie and Mark Brooks--but
every great golfer must have a major on his resume. What more can
Mickelson, 0 for 41 in the four biggies (including four he played
as an amateur), say about that cold fact? Talk about how life
with Amy and the kids will go on even if he never gets one and
he's considered soft; obsess about it and he'd be considered a
twitchy head case. He can't get away from it. When the People's
Choice sticks his first peg into the ground at Hazeltine, Alfred
Santos, 95, and his wife, Jennie, 90, Mickelson's maternal
grandparents, will be watching on television from their home in
San Diego. The Santos's kitchen is adorned with 21 flags, each
snatched from the 18th green by Mackay after a Mickelson victory.
But Alfred has spoken. "No more flags," he has said, "unless it's
a major." Now, that is pressure.
Mickelson sighs heavily and ponders the inevitable question.
"Look, Hogan started winning majors at 34 or 35. I'm only 32. If
I can elevate my game to the point that I hope to and can start
beating arguably the greatest player of all time, then what would
that make me?" But, Phil, what if you don't win a major, what if
you're, like, 47, and you've won 40 tournaments but never a
major? "What I'm more concerned about is how many can I win,"
says Mickelson. "Yes, I know I have to win one before I can think
about two or three. But the idea that I'll be deep in my 40s
without a major is not a concern of mine. So your question is an
unrealistic hypothetical." Spoken, truly, like the smartest boy
in the room.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DARREN CARROLL BRINKSMANSHIP Mickelson has honed his game in pursuit of a major, but he hasn't lost his edge.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK STILL IN THE HUNT Stalking Tiger (here, at the 2001 Masters) has been unavailing at the majors for Mickelson.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK GOING FOR BROKE Mickelson's bold approach (here, at the 2001 PGA) has won galleries' hearts if not the big titles.
COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE MICKELSON FAMILY (LEFT) TEE TYKE Mickelson, who was firmly established as a lefty by the time he was two (below), gets his athletic grace from dad Phil and his drive from mom Mary.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON DADDY'S GIRLS Amy is expecting again, and Phil hopes for a sister to join Sophia, 10 months, and Amanda, 3.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL HISTORY LESSONS At 32, Mickelson finds comfort in the fact that Hogan didn't win his first major until his mid-30s.
MICKELSON IS widely recognized as a player--perhaps the only top
player--who hasn't capitulated to Woods, who refuses to worship
at the altar.
"GO OUT and have fun," the elder Phil would say to his son as he
left for a tournament. Mary would then whisper, "Have fun, but
be sure to win."
"TIGER HAS always wanted to become the greatest player who's
ever lived. To me, there are more important things in life than
winning a bunch of majors."
HIS EARLY and frequent success fed Mickelson's unshakable sense
that there is no tree so tall, no pin placement so formidable
that he cannot master it.