Phil Mickelson shares the ‘random act of kindness’ that helped him get on the PGA Tour

October 2, 2019
Phil Mickelson in his latest "Tribute Tuesday" video.

Phil Mickelson’s Twitter presence has received a lot of attention over the past year, and rightfully so. His hilarious posts and jabs at fellow players have shot new life into the stuffy old game of golf. But Phil’s social activity isn’t exclusively jokes and calf exercises. Mickelson also takes time to honor people who have impacted his career.

Each Tuesday, Mickelson posts a “Tribute Tuesday” video, in which he shares a personal story about influential figures in his life. This week, Phil focused his tribute on a man who helped a young Phil get on the PGA Tour.

Seated in a golf cart ahead of his appearance in this week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, Mickelson begins the video talking about his high school job working at a golf course. Back when he was 16, Phil picked the driving range at Stardust Country Club in San Diego, which is now known as Riverwalk.

He worked alongside a man named Mark Smelko, who Mickelson lauds as his “favorite guy to work with because he was such a hard worker, and he would always do the little things that made working together easier.”

More importantly, Phil says Smelko would often close down the range himself, allowing Phil to “hit a few balls and get [his] game sharp” when he had tournaments coming up. At the time, Mickelson was trying his best to make it onto the PGA Tour and become a pro golfer while having no official status.

But Smelko’s assistance didn’t stop there. He also did something for Phil that the five-time major champion will never forget.

Mickelson wanted to try and get into the PGA Tour’s L.A. Open through Monday qualifying. There was one problem: he had no way to get there. As Phil says, “I didn’t have a car, I couldn’t drive and my parents couldn’t drive me.” That’s when Smelko stepped in to lend a hand.

“He offered, and he came to my house and picked me up at 4:30 in the morning. We drove up to LA together, ultimately got in the [ Monday qualifying] event, he caddied for me, and we drove home.”

Mickelson didn’t make it into the tournament, but that was “besides the point.” Mickelson ended up making it into the L.A. Open the next year, and the rest is history. Mickelson went on to win the 1991 Northern Telecom Open as an amateur, and eventually turned pro and added 43 more Tour wins (and counting) to his resume.

But according to Phil, none of that would ever have happened without the generosity of people like Smelko.

“It was that random act of kindness that he shared with me that has impacted my life, because I’ve always remembered how much that meant to me, and I’ve tried to share with others what he’s done,” Mickelson says to close out the video. “So I want to thank Mark Smelko for his leadership and guidance and what he’s meant fin my life. Even though I haven’t seen him for many, many years, I still remember him and appreciate him.”

Mickelson, now 49 and a World Golf Hall of Fame member, tees off at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Thursday at 10:10 a.m. ET.

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