Collegian Mickelson Wins 91 Tucson


Tom Purtzer was 39 years old in January of 1991, a professional with nearly 16 years experience. Bob Tway already had won a major, that five years earlier when he won the 86 PGA. The Tucson tournament was 46 years old, having been around since 1945.
And in 1991, a collegian at Arizona State University in the greater Phoenix area was the toast of Tucson. A 20-year-old named Phil Mickelson defeated Purtzer, defeated Tway, defeated the whole field to win the Northern Telecom Tucson Open. In doing so, he overcame a triple bogey four holes from the finish, he overcome a three-shot deficit as he stood on the 16th tee, and he became only the fourth amateur in PGA Tour history to win a tour event.
The events didnt surprise Purtzer, who was the man who lost the most in this event. Had he been able to preserve his three-stroke margin in the fading minutes of the 91 Northern Telecom, he would have been the winner. Mickelson defeated Purtzer and Tway to win by the margin of a single stroke.
I told my caddie that Mickelson would win a pro tournament before he turned pro, said Purtzer. Youd have to go back to Nicklaus to find an amateur like Phil. Guys like Phil and Nicklaus and Tom Watson dont come down the pike too often.
Mickelson held the lead when the final round began, but lost his two-stroke bulge on the front side Sunday. Playing in the final grouping alongside Corey Pavin, he grabbed the lead back with birdies at StarPass on the ninth and 10th holes to go ahead of Tway.
Thats where Mickelson was when he got to the 15th tee. It was a par-5 hole of only 506 yards and he was anticipating a birdie. Instead, when he walked off the green, he marked an eight down on his card and was seemingly beaten.
Heres the anatomy of an eight: Mickelson yanked his tee shot deep into the desert and had to leave the ball to the rattlesnakes. He took his drop and one-stroke penalty and struck a 3-iron, again hooking the ball out of bounds.
Now hitting five, he loaded up a 9-iron, but it drifted into a greenside bunker. He finally got it on the green in six, then two-putted for the snowman.
A three-stroke deficit might as well be 10 strokes when you are only three holes from the finish line ' particularly to a young man who still had English class to worry about tomorrow. But not Mickelson, who proved to be not your normal college student.
Ive never seen someone come back from something like that, said Pavin.
Mickelson did, though, much to Purtzers chagrin. He birdied the next hole, the 16th, shaking off the effects of 15. And the men in front of him conveniently begin folding.
Pavin himself had a brush with the desert and fell by the wayside. David Peoples took a couple of penalty strokes and was finished. Tway bogeyed the 17th. And Purtzer, playing a hole ahead of Mickelson, was about to have trouble at No. 18.
He had only a 9-iron into the green, but plugged the ball into a front bunker. Then he compounded the folly by leaving his third shot still in the bunker. Finally he got the ball out in his fourth shot, but two-putted from 12 feet for a double bogey. From being ahead by three strokes when he began the hole, he left it tied with Tway and Mickelson ' who by then had birdied the 16th.
So the field had parted in front of Mickelson, and the college junior stood on the tee of the 18th tied for the lead with Purtzer and Tway. Facing a 454-yard hole, Mickelson nailed a perfect drive of almost an even 300 yards.
Facing just 149 yards to the pin, he arched a perfect 9-iron that stopped only eight feet away. Now came the putt
I stood behind the putt and I knew the break, said Mickelson, knowing very well the green that he had played on several times in college events. It was just a matter of rolling it in.
There was never any doubt that it was good from the moment it left the putterface. Mickelson, who has gone on to win 20 more times, had to forfeit the $180,000 first prize since he was still an amateur. But he has had more than enough paychecks to make up for the one he lost ' more than $22 million as this year began.