Nineteen reasons to show some love for Phil Mickelson

Wednesday March 18th, 2009
Mickelson chipped in four times and needed only 99 putts at Doral.
Fred Vuich/SI

Whew! That was exhausting, watching Phil Mickelson shoot 19 under par last week, winning the CA Championship on the so-called Blue Monster course at Doral Resort & Spa. He beat Nick Watney by a shot, Camilo Villegas by six, Tiger Woods by eight, Rory McIlroy by 10 and, to varying degrees, 74 other touring professionals. The lefthander played red-faced, dehydrated, hungry, exhausted and, for one shot, righthanded.

With the possible exception of several cave-dwelling U.S. congressmen, you won't find a person who doesn't think Mickelson earned every one of the 550 FedEx points he claimed on Sunday and every dime of his $1.4 million winner's haul. RIP, Godfather of Soul: Dr. Phil is now the hardest-working man in showbiz.

In honor of his winning score (to par), herewith are 19 things about Mickelson we're labeling Living Large with Dr. Phil. FYI: Phil already knows about the stiff neck you will develop next month, has identified the cause — your pillows don't have the right down count — and he will be sending you, with his compliments, a pillow custom-made to meet your cranial needs. Expect a delivery by (of course) FedEx and don't worry: Phil has checked off the no-signature-required box and has instructed the driver to leave it by the back patio door, under the tarp. Enjoy!

1. Phil's a people person. Phil didn't seem right last week. After one round he lay down on the floor in the scorer's room after attesting his card. But he answered every last question from reporters (in theory the fans' surrogate) and honored every last autograph request.

2. Phil doesn't take himself too seriously. One year Phil was playing poorly at Las Vegas. He was twirling a club and mulling a shot when he asked his caddie, "What do I got?" The caddie, Jim (Bones) Mackay, the only caddie Phil's had as a pro, said, "One-seventy-six." Phil dropped the club he was twirling and it fell on the ball and pushed the ball forward. "One-seventy-five now," Mackay said. And Phil laughed.

3. Phil looks good. He's a big man, and he's not running from it, wearing, as of this year, tight European-style golf shirts with buttons to hold down the collars, flat-front pants, thick belts and long hair. If he were shooting 75, the look wouldn't work. But he's not.

4. Phil's not afraid to experiment. You know he tried to play the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last year without a driver. He didn't win (18th place). In 2000 he essayed the Tour Championship without a four-iron. East Lake, he reasoned, had no four-iron shots. In the final round, on the last hole, a long par-3, he was suddenly desperate for his four-iron. While he considered his options, the wind shifted and was now hurting. Phil jumped on the tee, smashed a three-iron, knocked it on the green and two-putted to win by a shot.

5. Phil looks after his caddie. After his second victory at Augusta, in '06, Phil made sure Mackay was in attendance at the club's Sunday-night dinner celebrating the new winner.

6. Phil looks after his golf-nut friends. On the Wednesday before the 2002 British Open at Muirfield, Phil surprised a friend, R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs of Athens, Ga., by getting in a car and making a two-hour drive to the Old Course at St. Andrews for a casual game.

7. Phil looks after his family. After winning his first major, the '04 Masters, Phil was invited to the PGA Grand Slam in Hawaii over Thanksgiving. He brought his wife, Amy, and their three kids. Plus his brother and sister. And his parents. Plus Amy's siblings. And her parents. And he paid for everybody.

8. Phil loves kids. One year at the International, Phil came upon a lemonade stand offering 50-cent cups. Phil left a crumpled $100 bill and spied on the girls as they unfolded their tip and realized he had just dropped a Franklin on them.

9. Phil knows how to tip. On the Sunday night of his first Masters win, the first-floor locker room attendants at Augusta National stood at the club entrance as Phil left for the night in his green jacket. They gave the new winner giant hugs with tears in their eyes. Next time and forevermore, Phil would be using the upstairs champions' locker room. What was good for Phil was bad for them, as Phil is a world-class tipper.

10. Phil has the need for speed. In his rookie year in '92, at the B.C. Open, Phil got pulled over for speeding — while making the half-mile drive from the clubhouse to the driving range.

11. Phil knows how to pull off a prank. One year at Bay Hill his buddy Colin Montgomerie was in the paper complaining about his poor tee times and obscure playing partners. Phil got a piece of official PGA Tour stationery and wrote an official-sounding letter reminding Montgomerie that on the PGA Tour winners get paired with winners in the first two rounds and generally don't get extreme tee times, and that if he wanted to remedy his situation he should try winning a Tour event. Mickelson watched gleefully as Monty stewed over the letter. In time, he gave himself up.

12. Phil helps strangers. One year at the L.A. Open, Phil was driving back to his hotel after lunch. He was on Santa Monica Boulevard in a downpour. He saw a homeless man on the sidewalk, pulled over, got the umbrella from his golf bag and gave it to the man.

13. Phil helps friends in need. One year Phil agreed to play in the Dutch Open. He persuaded the tournament organizers to give a spot to a friend of his, Larry Barber (Miller Barber's son), who was trying to get a pro career off the ground. Phil arranged for the two of them to play a practice round with Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros. In the second round Larry made a hole in one. He missed the cut but won a bike.

14. Phil loves sports. In '01 he didn't leave Phoenix, where he was then living, to defend his title in the Tour Championship. Reason: The Diamondbacks were playing the Yankees in the World Series, and Phil had seats behind the home dugout.

15. Phil shares his toys. Last year Phil bought a new jet, a Gulfstream V. He flew to Scotland for a tournament, his first flight ever on the plane. At the tournament he was supposed to have lunch with a dozen or so winners of a Callaway giveaway. There was a mix-up, and the prize winners were all assembled in London. Phil flew the group up to Scotland in his new G5, with the gourmet food and the leather seats and the warp speed, at his expense.

16. Phil's loyal. As a pro, Phil has had one caddie, one agent, one wife and two swing coaches: first Rick Smith and now Butch Harmon. Smith remains one of Phil's closest friends, and Smith and his wife, Tricia, go on vacation with Phil and Amy at least once a year.

17. Phil's happy with who he is. He's not trying to be Tiger. He said two years ago, "If I have a great rest of my career and win 20 more tournaments and seven more majors to get to 50 wins and 10 majors, which would be an awesome career, I still won't get to where he's at today." After his win on Sunday, reporters noted that Phil was now the No. 2 player in the world and closing in on Tiger. Phil was not impressed. He noted that Tiger didn't play for 81/2 months, during which time Phil won twice — and still couldn't catch him.

18. Phil appreciates a fine New Jersey slice. During his PGA win in '05 Phil fell so in love with the pie at Joe's Pizzeria, about a mile from Baltusrol, in Springfield, N.J., that he tried to lure Ehab, the shop's pie man, to move to pizza-deprived Scottsdale, Ariz., and open a pizzeria there.

19. Phil's not pretentious. He showed up for a charity outing at Torrey Pines last year wearing shorts, carrying his own bag and introducing himself to his playing partners by saying, "Hi. I'm Phil."

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