My Sportsman: Phil Mickelson

My Sportsman: Phil Mickelson

His finest hour: Mickelson with the claret jug after prevailing at Muirfield.
Bob Martin / Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for 2013's Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 16. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

Phil Mickelson deserves to be Sportsman of the Year strictly on the merits of his wondrous 2013 season, but it would also be a kind of lifetime achievement award for our modern day Arnie. Mickelson has that rarest commodity in professional sports: class. He has devoted his public life to doing the right thing, whether it’s large-scale philanthropy or random acts of kindness.

For all of his wealth and fame and extravagant talent, Mickelson’s triumphs and heartbreaks have always had a very human scale. When he stepped off the final green at Augusta National in 2010 and into the arms of his wife Amy, who was just months removed from a breast cancer diagnosis, the sports world cried along with them. This was as touching as the scene on the final green at Pinehurst in 1999, when he lost the U.S. Open and was enveloped in Payne Stewart’s embrace.

There was another unforgettable hug this summer, behind the 18th green at Muirfield, when Phil was engulfed by Amy and their two daughters and a son, Evan, who didn’t take a breath for his first seven minutes outside the womb in 2003 but has grown into a happy, healthy kid. The Mickelsons were celebrating maybe the greatest triumph of Phil’s Hall of Fame career, his rousing comeback to take the British Open. Mickelson’s back-nine 32 is among the most legendary golf ever played at this august championship, and it showcased his evolution from a one-dimensional slugger to a nimble shotmaker. How many athletes reinvent themselves at 43, after a quarter-century of myth-making success? While battling arthritis, no less? Mickelson is now three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam and he’s not done yet.

The Open was part of a career year. Already in 2013 Mickelson had shot the second lowest four-round score in PGA Tour history, at Phoenix, and tamed a rollicking track at the Scottish Open. At the U.S. Open he had displayed just as much grace in defeat as victory. The serial disappointments Mickeslon has suffered at our national championship would break a lesser man, but resiliency may be his most important gift, right up there with the flop shot.

To bestow the Sportsman on Mickelson would make official what has long been obvious: there’s not a greater champion in sports, and winning has only a little bit to do with it.