Wednesday, June 17, 2009

FARMINGTON, N.Y. -- I just watched Phil Mickelson, who was finishing his practice round on the ninth hole at Bethpage Black, hit 24 greenside pitches, 12 bunker shots and a dozen chip shots. He then signed a thousand autographs.Okay, I may be underestimating the number of autographs. Phil walked straight off the green to a gallery rope holding back hundreds of squirming, groping, hat-waving, flag-thrusting fans, many of them yelling, "Phil! Phil!" He signed about fifty times -- smiling all the while -- and then took a step toward a van waiting to shuttle him back to the clubhouse. The van was maybe 80 yards away.He signed another fifty autographs, still smiling, still establishing eye contact with his fans. Took another step to the right. Signed another fifty autographs. Looked to his left to make sure he hadn't missed some little girl with a pink ballcap and a ponytail. Stepped to his right. Kept signing.Lefty had walked off the ninth green at about two o'clock. He was still signing at 2:50, when I left, and he still had a couple of hundred supplicants between himself and the shuttle.Question No. 1: How does Mickelson retain his famous short-game "feel" after scribbling his name a thousand times?Question No. 2: Why do a handful of Tour players and caddies still spread rumors about Mickelson and dismiss him as "a prick?" Personally, I think you can tell a lot about a star athlete by the way he treats his fans. And nobody this side of Arnold Palmer has ever been as accommodating as Phil Mickelson.(Amy's great, too, but I don't know if she signs.)More From GOLF.com: Phil Mickelson Homepage | Photos: Practice Rounds

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