PGA Championship 2019: Why Phil Mickelson signs so many autographs

May 15, 2019

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — It’s half past three on the Wednesday afternoon of the PGA Championship, and Phil Mickelson is signing autographs. He always does this on Wednesday afternoons, but this one is different: It’s a major week, and a Long Island major week at that. The fans here love Mickelson, and they especially love that he loves them back.

“Hey Phil, how come you always wear black?”

“Honestly, it’s because I’m too fat,” Mickelson said.

He continues signing. The shrieks come from both sides of the aisle. “Phil! Phil! Phil!” His pace is quick, but not frenzied; there’s a rhythm to it. Grabs an item from an outstretched hand. Attaches his signature. Returns that item to its owner, and grabs another one. There are always more items to sign, even at a pace of one per five to seven seconds, which is what Mickelson hits. That’s ten per minute, with pauses only for selfies, which he takes himself.

Mickelson’s wearing shorts, although it’s hardly mandatory shorts weather — Lefty’s calves have become a notable piece of his brand.

One fan tells Phil that players over 40 should be able to wear shorts during tournament rounds. Phil agrees.

“Plus, the young guys — their legs aren’t fully developed yet.”

Phil Mickelson signed hundreds of autographs on Wednesday afternoon at Bethpage Black.
Dylan Dethier

He switches sides of the aisle, then switches back again, earning roars of approval each time. Watching, it’s hard to shake the impression that signing seems like a rewarding yet rather thankless task. He’s shoveling sand against the tide; every fan who gets an autograph is immediately replaced by another fan clamoring another autograph, and some diabolical double-dippers sneak around the side of the barrier to get themselves in position for a second. There’s always one more autograph that can’t be signed.

But there’s plenty of reward, too. One grown man yells in excitement as he receives his signed hat back. “Ten years! Ten years I’ve been waiting for this!” Another tells Mickelson his grandmother liked him better than any other golfer. There are pieces of cool memorabilia, too, Sports Illustrated covers and various photos bearing Mickelson’s likeness. He signs them all, as best he can.

Finally Mickelson reaches the end of the line, 31 minutes after he started, and gallops up the bridge leading to the players’ locker room. A reporter, trying to keep up, poses the question: Why does he sign so much?

“I remember watching Palmer in 1994 and how much people appreciated his time,” Mickelson says, but he’s interrupted: someone is shouting down below. He leans over the edge, where a twenty-something named Joey is yelling about his calves. Phil yells back. “Lemme see! Dude, Joe, lemme see your calves!”

This is the perfect duality of Phil Mickelson: one part student (and legend) of the game, one part self-effacing viral sensation.

Joey flexes his left calf muscle in Mickelson’s direction and yells back. “I’ve been working all year for this moment!”

Phil considers the flex. He’s unmoved. “No you haven’t. No, you haven’t! You’re just doing the couch — you have to do steps three, four and five, with weights and all that. There’s five parts on there. You’re just getting started, my man.”

He continues down the walkway. How many autographs does he think he signs per session? Mickelson’s a math guy; this is in his wheelhouse. “About three to five hundred,” he says. It checks out perfectly: One every 5-7 seconds, 10 every minute, 100 every 10 minutes, 300 in a half-hour. And Mickelson has promised to sign more on the other side of the clubhouse.

He stops at player family dining, where John Daly and a group of friends and family are lounging on the other side of the railing. Daly cracks a dirty joke, which Phil ignores. Daly makes the same joke again. Mickelson slaps him on the shoulder.

“I heard you the first time, I just chose not to acknowledge you,” he says, shaking his head.

He has time for one last question before he disappears into the locker room. What’s the best part of all this?

Mickelson doesn’t hesitate. “Interacting with fans. I think the great thing about golf that other sports don’t have is the interaction. And signing autographs allows you to do that.”

With that, he executes a proper Phil escape, vaulting sideways over a waist-high fence and heading into the players lounge. He’ll be back tomorrow. The fans will, too.