Phil Mickelson, always unconventional

© Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — For years, golf was not a game for left-handers. In part because left-handed clubs were as rare as snow on the Monterey Peninsula.

In part, because of a cockamamie idea that you needed to be right-handed to be a champion. Ben Hogan was a left-hander who hit right-handed. The same with Johnny Miller.

Then there’s Phil Mickelson. Let us choose the word unconventional. He’s a right-hander who, as very young boy, mirrored his father’s swing and started hitting left-handed. We’ll use that as the reason Phil is Phil.

Meaning his own man. Courageous, to a point — some would say daring, trying shots out of the woods, weaving through traffic on a San Diego freeway — and confrontational, to a point.

For certain, in his near half-century of existence (he turns 50 in June) Phil has kept us guessing when he hasn’t kept us bewildered.

There was that time a few years ago at Torrey Pines, in the tournament now called the Farmers Insurance Open, when Mickelson was maybe 150 yards from the cup at 18 and told his caddy to pull the pin. What chutzpah! What delight? No, he didn’t hole the shot.

And of course there was the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock. The 13th hole, the round when he began swatting the ball around, even before it stopped moving — a penalty — and made a 10. On his 48th birthday.

We’ve been hearing that Phil, who’s lived in California all his life, is moving to Florida when his youngest child graduates high school in 2021. Phil will save millions in taxes. But that won’t help him win a U.S. Open, the only major of the four in which he never was a champion.

But Tuesday, Mickelson told Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press if offered the exemption he would refuse. A surprise? Is anything Phil Mickelson does a surprise, from winning the U.S. Amateur and, at Arizona State, the NCAA to winning the only AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am that spanned seven months?

That was back in 1998. Play was suspended after two rounds. Because the 1998 PGA Championship was outside Seattle, the decision was made to play the final two rounds of the AT&T in August, the day after the PGA ended. Complex logistic tics, including a charter flight, but it worked out beautifully for Mickelson.

That was back in 1998. Play was suspended after two rounds. Because the 1998 PGA Championship was outside Seattle, the decision was made to play the final two rounds of the AT&T in August, the day after the PGA ended. Complex logistics, including a charter flight, but it worked out beautifully for Mickelson.

So did the 2019 AT&T, another Mickelson victory, his fifth in this event. That also came with Phil’s touch. Rain delayed the final round, and when Phil and Paul Casey reached 16 it was too dark to play for Casey. Not for Mickelson. Finally the golf was halted until Monday morning.

The win a year ago was his 44th — but also his last.

Of course, now the only victory that would matter would be in the U.S. Open. He’s won the Masters, the PGA Championship and the British, but like Sam Snead, who never won the Open, or Arnold Palmer, who never won the PGA, or Tom Watson, who never won the PGA, Mickelson is not quite there.

Mickelson did not finish in the top 10 after his Pebble Beach victory last year until he finished third last week in the Saudi International. He fell out of the top 50 in the world late last year for the first time in 26 years.

"They have never been an organization that likes to give out exemptions, special exemptions," said Mickelson about the U.S. Open. "I don't want a special exemption. I think I'll get in the tournament. If I get in, I deserve to be there. If I don't, I don't. I don't want a sympathy spot. If I am good enough to make it and qualify, then I need to earn my spot there."

Somebody, cue up a recording of Sinatra singing “My Way.”

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