by Jeff Skinner
It looks like the folks of Chaska Minnesota aren’t that much different from the people of New York, at least when it comes to their affection for Phil Mickelson. Phil drew some of the largest crowds once again at Hazeltine as he played his practice round for the PGA Championship. He was welcomed with standing ovations and long cheers as he made his way around the course. He again is everyone’s sentimental favorite as he takes time away from his wife Amy to try and capture his fourth major. Phil has played little since Amy’s diagnosis and the question has to be asked; can Phil really win here? Phil thinks so.
Even though he tied for fifty-eighth in last week’s Bridgestone Invitational, Phil feels he is prepared to win. “I felt I had a really good week last week, even though I didn’t play well or score the way I wanted to,” Mickelson said Wednesday. “I was able to identify what I needed to work on and address those the last couple of days,” he said, “and I feel much better about my game heading into this week than, say, even the U.S. Open.” Considering he tied for second place at the U.S. Open, that’s a bold statement. Phil has only played in three tournaments in two months. Phil always uses the tournament before a major to tweak his game and prepare for the upcoming week. He feels he has his short game under control and he’ll need it along with all aspects of his game on the longest course in major championship history. Phil hasn’t won a major since the 2006 Masters and the past months he has spent more time off the course with his family than he has playing tournament golf. To come back with little preparation and beat the best players in the world is a herculean task. But Phil is confident he can do it. That is what you have to admire about him. He knows that once he gets on the course he has a chance. At Bethpage he fed off the energy of the fans and played on an emotional high the entire week. If he can harness the love the fans are showing him this week he’ll be close on Sunday.
Each time Phil shows up at a tournament he has a built in “home crowd” to cheer for him. It doesn’t matter if it’s Minnesota or New York or the North Pole; Mickelson’s fans are there to support their hero. He signs more autographs than anyone, tosses balls and gloves to kids, high fives anyone within reach, and talks to the crowd like he was in their living room. He does all this with that ever present smile that says “I’m as happy as a guy can be.” He loves the crowds, he loves the game, and he loves his family. That’s what makes it so easy for all those fans to love Phil Mickelson.