Mickelson, who tries to play the week before a major to get competitively sharp, said he would skip the tournaments before the Masters and the U.S. Open. He won the BellSouth Classic last year by 13 shots, then won his second green jacket a week later.
BellSouth has moved to May, and Houston will be a week before the Masters. Mickelson hasn't played Houston since 2003, and he has not played Memphis (the week before the U.S. Open) since 2001.
Hawaii is celebrating one golf feat after another these days, from the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut on the PGA TOUR (Tadd Fujikawa) to the youngest U.S. Women's Amateur champion (Kimberly Kim) to Dean Wilson becoming the first player from Hawaii to win on the PGA TOUR in 16 years.
But it's not easy for most of them to reach the big time, and Wilson offered an excellent illustration.
A public course kid from Kaneohe on the north end of Oahu, he could only afford one trip to the mainland to play in the Junior Worlds at Torrey Pines. That kept him from getting noticed by colleges, and he didn't have a single scholarship offer when he left high school. Wilson wound up going to BYU-Hawaii with hopes of getting into a Division I school.
He transferred to the main campus of BYU -- former Masters champion Mike Weir was on that team -- but had to walk on and still had a tough time getting into the lineup over the scholarship players. Whenever he complained, the coach put him in his place with a line they both laugh about to this day.
'He told me, 'You're a dime a dozen. For all I care, you can paddle your canoe back to wherever you came from,'' Wilson recalled.
Wilson now lives in Las Vegas, but he keeps in touch with Hawaii golf through a Web site, www.808golf.com, and he wants to start a foundation for Hawaii juniors that would help with their travel to the mainland.
'You don't have to be from a country club. You don't have to have all the extra privileges,' he said. 'Not that my life was hard, but I was just a basic junior golfer that wanted to play on tour and worked toward it and got there. Hopefully, that's what those guys, when they look at me, they realize nothing is that extraordinary about my game.'
THE PERFECT START
No one gets to the PGA TOUR without plenty of support, and Stephen Marino didn't forget that.
Marino played golf at Virginia and has spent the last four years in the minor leagues, mainly the Gateway and Golden Bear tours. He made it to the final stage of Q-school for the first time last month and earned his card with a tie for eighth.
The Sony Open was his first PGA TOUR event as a member. And how's this for a debut -- he wound up in the same group as Michelle Wie and the hundreds of fans who came to watch her.
Standing on the first tee, soaking it all in, Marino spotted his parents and walked over to the ropes, giving each a big hug.
Moments later, his name was announced on the first tee and he split the middle of the fairway, on his way to an opening-round 68. He made the cut and tied for 34th.
Chris Smith missed the cut at the Sony Open and might not get many cracks on the PGA TOUR this year, but his outlook leaving Honolulu was better than it has been in years.
Consider how his 2006 season began.
His sponsor's exemption to the Sony Open was taken away and given to Peter Jacobsen after an oversight kept Jacobsen, a popular figure at Waialae because of his clinics, out of the field. Smith came over, anyway, having already bought his plane tickets, and tried to Monday qualify. He made two bogeys down the stretch and missed by one.
'I knew it was going to be a bad year,' he said. 'The first two weeks could not have been any worse. Bad karma carried over.'
He finished 195th on the money list, then discovered he had shingles. And during a trip to the doctor, he found his blood pressure was 140 over 116. It was still high before leaving for Q-school, where he failed to get his card.
In the last month, Smith has lost 25 pounds and his blood pressure is down to 111 over 73. And he's ready to get back to work.
'The last four years have just been bad,' he said. 'My expectations went from way too high to way too low.'
The BellSouth Classic in Atlanta now will be called the AT&T Classic to reflect the recently approved merger between the two phone companies. BellSouth had been the title sponsor in Atlanta since 1989. ... Rich Beem wasn't too discouraged by a 71-75 weekend, noting that it was his first tournament of the year. Plus, he earned his first FedExCup points. 'Yeah, but I can't cash those in for beer,' he said. ... Michelle Wie's week might best be defined by the fact that she had honors on the tee only twice in her 36 holes at the Sony Open. ... Notah Begay has signed a two-year endorsement deal to represent Turning Stone Resort, the title sponsor and host of a PGA TOUR event in the fall. ... Bernhard Langer has signed a deal to play Adams Golf equipment.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Nearly half of Phil Mickelson's victories on the PGA TOUR (14 of 29) have come in California or Arizona.
'I've talked to people who have been married 30 or 40 years, and they say the first seven years are the toughest. I'm on six. My other three marriages didn't make it past two.' -- John Daly, who filed for divorce in October and is trying to reconcile.
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