This story about Phil Mickelson’s grandfather fighting pirates on the open sea is wild

June 6, 2019

In anticipation of this year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, GOLF senior writer Michael Bamberger took a deep dive on six-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson’s family history. Mickelson’s grandfather, Al Santos, was born in Monterey, Calif., in 1906, and caddied at Pebble Beach in the course’s early days, making 50 cents a day on a double-loop, before the family south to San Diego.

Bamberger spoke extensively with Mary Mickelson, Phil’s mother and the first of Santos’ three daughters, about Al Santos, whose rough-and-tumble early life provided endless fodder for storytelling — and even included a potentially fatal run-in with pirates.

During the Depression, the Santos family left Monterey for San Diego, where Al Santos became a “tunaman.” He captained his own boat and worked with his brothers at sea for weeks at a time. It was hard work — and not just because of the rough waters.

Al Santos (far right), conducting business on his fishing boat.
Courtesy Mickelson family

One day, “Pirates were shooting at his boat, trying to steal his catch, and he shot back at them,” Mary told Bamberger, repeating the story as she heard it from Santos. “He might have killed one of them. He didn’t want to stick around and find out.”

Santos left the tuna business in his early 50s to take an assembly-line job at Convair, a division of General Dynamics, working the overnight shift. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 97.

In case you need a reminder, Mickelson has won at Pebble on five different occasions, and is seeking a U.S. Open title to complete the career grand slam. It goes without saying that a win this year would represent perhaps the greatest example of poetic justice in the game’s history.

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