For the purposes of this column, I am assuming Phil Mickelson didn’t win The Masters. Even though it would make most of the following even more redundant than usual, I hope he did, because it would mean I’d no longer have to ask him the same boring, asinine, please-don’t-sink-a-FootJoy-into-my-groin questions when I interview him.
I like Phil, although I do admit I have a problem relating to his clubs, which I think are kind of gauche. You know — awkward looking? I’m probably just a right-handed homophobe, but left-handed clubs have always made me feel kind of weird. Don’t get me wrong; in most other areas I have managed to transcend the stereotypical views of the chubby, white, right-handed victim of the Irish curse.
I probably won’t remember to do it, but the next time I visit my therapist, I need to ask her if the left-handed thing might possibly have anything to do with the incident in 1969 when Luigi Esdale, the assistant pro at Bangor Golf Club, sent me to the hardware store to pick up a left-handed hammer. I was only 11, but now that I think of it, when he asked me to get a can of tartan paint as well, it should have been a dead giveaway. Ah, the memories.
But if you want a real example of someone who has grace, dignity, stoicism (which is a word with no right to exist), and who has endured a barrage of stupid questions, you should look no further than Mickelson.
In my short stint as a course reporter, I’ve asked enough stupid questions to be able to spot one when it’s asked by someone else, believe me, and it was no surprise when earlier this year Phil finally tossed his head back and gave us all the full Miss Piggy. Lucky no one got a slap in the kisser, because they probably wouldn’t have seen a right hook coming.
First, let me say this: The media has an obvious obligation to ask questions, the answers to which readers, listeners, and viewers have a right. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out what most people would like to know about Phil. The thing is, if you believe everything you hear, then evidently you know more about Phil than Phil does.
For a start, seven years ago in Vegas, he placed a $700,000 bet at 1,500-1 odds on a football team that at the time didn’t even exist, to win the Super Bowl six years later. Or something like that. Bingo, the man is a genius! Shortly thereafter, he backed Gonzaga to make the Sweet 16 within the next decade, the All-Blacks to defeat Australia in the Rugby World Cup, and Denzel Washington to play the role of Stephen Biko in a movie within three years.
Who knew that he could forsee all that?
More to the point, who should care? Like most people, I flick through the occasional supermarket tabloid bum-rag on my way through the 15-items-or-less lane, and while the check-out clerk wonders how one man could possibly need this amount of personal lubricant and beef jerky, I’m never seriously considering that there was actually a three-legged female figure skater competing at Salt Lake City.
Or maybe there was. Strange things happen in Utah. I remember a Canadian colliding really hard with one of the Russians, but I can’t imagine it left one person with three legs. They definitely had that one guy on welfare who had 18 wives, although I think he’s in jail now — presumably finding out what it’s like to have 18 husbands. Either way, we’re paying for it.
I digress as usual, but it’s all about too much information. I couldn’t care less whether Phil wins or loses a bet. Well, actually I’d prefer him to win, but it’s his own business. He has been the first to admit he’s been too free with personal info, but the media has been so eager to cast him as the guy who has won everything except for what he really wants.
I dunno about any of you, but it looks to me like he has a bunch of things that most people would really want. Let’s see, a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters, all of whom love him. That would do for a start, and never mind the material stuff, of which he obviously has an ample sufficiency. Dear God, I can hear it already: “Can’t skirt the issue…majors are the only things that matter at this stage… never be a complete player… don’t run with those scissors, you’ll put your eye out, blah, blah, blah…” I mean, can’t we think of anything else to ask him? How about this:
Fat course reporter looking into hand-held camera: “Thank you, Kenny. This is Desmond Bulgeflirter, down behind the 18th green with an obviously disappointed Dick Trickelson.” (Turns to player, who looks less than happy to be there.) “Dick, yet again it looked like you’d captured that elusive first major, until that bastard Ed Fiori holed a 3-iron on 17 and then, wouldn’t you know it, he gets it up and down off the back of Miller Barber’s head for par at the last. I mean, what are the odds?”
Trickelson: “I called my guy in Vegas on that one before the round, Des, and believe me, he gave me a hell of a price. I wish I’d have taken it now, but having said that, at the last I really thought the guy was dead.”
Reporter: “Who, Miller Barber?”
Trickelson: “No, Ed Fiori.”
Reporter: “Well, it occurs to this announcer that you may have heard this question before, but how does it feel to be the best player in the world who’s never won a major?”
Trickelson (now glaring murderously): “I’m sorry, can you repeat the question?”
Reporter (after short, thoughtful pause): “No, I think that was the last one of those I had in me. How about this, though: In your opinion, who is the worst player in the world ever to have won a major?”
Trickelson (with astonished look): “Whoa! It’s a while since I got asked that one!” (Scratches his chin thoughtfully.) “Hmmm… I suppose that would have to be Old Tom Morris.”
Reporter: “But surely a comparison there is a little tenuous. I mean, if Tom Morris had access to the kind of equipment you’re playing with today…”
Trickelson, interrupting: “He would have sucked, Des, largely because he was right-handed.”
Reporter: “Dick, I know you want to get back to your family or maybe go and kick the crap out of Colin Montgomerie’s dog, but is there any chance you could give us an idea of who you think’ll be in the Final Four?”
Trickelson: “Des, if I were you, I’d bet the farm on Ball State, Grambling, Texas A&M, and the Harlem Globetrotters.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I think Phil Mickelson is a much better player than a lot of people, some of whom have won more than one major championship. I also think he will win one. Occasionally, because of the missing hardware, I’ll read that someone doubts the strength of his character. “He’s too soft,” or, “Look, his shoulders have slumped.”
Pssst! Hey, Einstein! Let me whisper this in your ear: HIS SHOULDERS WERE THAT SHAPE WHEN HE GOT OUT OF BED THIS MORNING!
Then some pencil-squeezer who regularly soils his trollies over four-footers for a quarter will scribble, “He doesn’t have the killer instinct.” Okay, so I’d have to agree with that, or he’d likely have killed me after walking off the last green at the Atlanta Athletic Club last August, after posting one of the greatest four-round totals in major championship history, and still getting the consolation prize.
He knew he was going to read more of the usual the next day, and dahling, I just know he was dying to talk to me. But to his eternal credit, he did not act at all inconsolable. In fact, in a dignified and courageous manner, he gave quite the opposite impression. It just goes to show you he can act, too.
I got through my entire career as a player by figuring out early that if I aimed low enough, both figuratively and literally, occasionally I would do something of which I was proud. I think that every Tour player is the best player either never or ever to have done something. I never won a major championship, but I remain convinced I am the best player ever to have vomited on an opponent in a Ryder Cup. You won’t read that in the history of the game, because it’s like Phil’s gambling and Monica’s dress. That is to say, it should have been nobody else’s business.
Okay, enough already. I can’t take the constant pleading. It was Lanny Wadkins, Kiawah Island, Sunday night, parking lot, gray slacks, and he was begging for it. Now for God’s sake, let me be. My career’s in ruins already.
As for Phil, I think he’s the best player ever to have won a wager.