by Jeff Skinner
Golf is an odd game. It’s frustrating and rewarding and painful and joyful, many times simultaneously. It is said that if you really want to get to know a person play eighteen holes of golf with them. We like to think that golf will reveal the true character of that person and most times it does.
We’ve been watching Phil Mickelson reveal his character for over two decades. And while no one can really know someone through images on television or from behind the ropes we have a fair perspective on the character of Phil Mickelson.
Each week whether he wins gleefully or loses agonizingly he seems to be the same Phil: thumbs up, goofy smile, giving media, fans and friends all they ask for.
Ron Green Jr. of Global Golf Post says that “Tiger Woods is the most important and successful golfer of this generation but Mickelson is the most loved.” He tells us Mickelson’s secret, “It’s because of the way he smiles and the way he pulls us in rather than pushes us away. If golf is his talent, Mickelson’s gift is his style.”
Arnold Palmer was the same way, always making you feel that he was looking right at you when he looked into the crowd. He and Mickelson both relished the adoration and gave it right back.
USA Today’s Christine Brennan says Phil and Tiger are separated by more than the five shots that Phil beat Tiger by at the Open. “He nods that delightful, goofy, big-kid smile of appreciation at least 100 times during every round of golf. When others walk away, he steps right into a gaggle of kids and parents holding programs and hats and Sharpies, and won’t leave for quite some time. Even in crushing defeat, as at last month’s U.S. Open at Merion, he still signs autographs for the fans who follow him off the course.
That’s Phil Mickelson. We don’t know everything about him. We don’t know everything about anyone on the world stage in sports. Tiger Woods taught us all about that.
But we do know that the 2013 British Open was won Sunday by the most polite and courteous man in the chase, the one who handled both the good and bad of Muirfield with a shrug and a smile, the man who ended up in one of most impressive group hugs in the history of both golf and the Mickelson family.
Every now and then, nice guys still do finish first in sports.”
Maybe Tiger would like to be more loved than revered but I doubt it. Phil would definitely like to have more majors but wouldn’t change a thing in his personal life to get them.
Mickelson is described with words like, open, honest, emotional and loyal. No more significant example of that loyalty is his relationship with his long time friend and caddie, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay. Karen Crouse of the New York Times highlights the Phil/Bones relationship and how Bones broke down when the two walked off the eighteenth green, “And then one of the driest Opens in recent memory got all wet. Mackay and Mickelson embraced, with one sobbing into the other’s shoulder. Only it wasn’t Mickelson crying but Mackay, who later explained while choking back more tears, “You work for a guy for 21 years, it’s pretty cool when you see him playing the best round of golf you’ve ever seen him play in the last round to win the British Open.”
“Asked why he was such an emotional mess, Mackay said, “Because the first time I caddied for the guy he didn’t have $10.”
Mickelson’s legacy is so much more than wins and major championships. It’s defined by things you won’t see in his Hall of Fame resume like handshakes and smiles and thumbs up and autographs. With a lot of character thrown in.