When Tim Mickelson first started coaching, his plan was to work for a few years until he felt the desire to play professionally again.
Fifteen years and three programs later, he finally made a career change.
On Wednesday, Mickelson was announced as the newest player representative for powerhouse Lagardere Sports, a move that has been rumored for months. Mickelson, 39, will serve as the day-to-day manager for Jon Rahm, his former standout player at Arizona State who turned pro in June.
“He trusts what I think and there’s a mutual respect between he and I,” Mickelson said by phone, “and I thought it’d be a really good match and a really good career change.”
A former No. 1-ranked amateur, Rahm was the first two-time winner of the Hogan Award, helping to thrust Mickelson and the Sun Devils back into the national spotlight. He’s already made a quick transition to the pro ranks, collecting a pair of top-3 finishes to essentially lock up his PGA Tour card for next season.
Mickelson said he only considered leaving coaching within the past year.
Last summer, he flew to Spain to recruit for the European Boys Team Championship, but on the way he stopped by Rahm’s hometown of Barrika. He spent two days there, playing Rahm’s old home course and talking to his parents about life after college, about the role of management companies and why they’re important.
“We left it at that,” he said.
Six months after that initial conversation, Rahm joked that his head coach should simply follow him to the pros and serve as his agent.
Mickelson shrugged off the suggestion at first, but he felt differently toward the end of the season.
“I got really burned out and had lost the passion to go recruit every day,” Mickelson said. “It was stale. It’d been 15 years. Every coach is different about what they love and dislike about the industry. I couldn’t get the passion.
“I kept trying to envision what I was doing the next year, and it didn’t involve recruiting. Recruiting is such a big part of the job now that if you’re not recruiting the next talent, you’re falling behind. It wasn’t fair to put the program in a compromising position.”
So last month, Mickelson announced that he was stepping down as the head coach, after five successful seasons. He said that he wanted to pursue other opportunities outside of college athletics, while denying rumors that he was set to join his 21-year-old star in the pros.
On Wednesday, Lagardere announced the move.
“It’s great,” Rahm said. “While I was in the States those four years, he was pretty much my dad. He was the guy I went to when I needed help and the guy I went to when I needed guidance. He’s helped out a lot to become the player I am today.”
There is a unique bit of symmetry to the announcement: When Phil Mickelson turned pro in 1992, his coach at Arizona State, Steve Loy, left his position to serve as Mickelson’s agent. Fast forward 24 years, and Mickelson resigned from ASU to work as Rahm’s manager. His new boss and mentor at Lagardere? Loy, of course.
In his new role, Mickelson will work with Rahm on developing a schedule, handling requests and adjusting to Tour life. A special temporary member, Rahm will play the next three events, including this week’s stop at the Travelers Championship. He is likely to lock up his card for next season, just two months after leaving school; he’d become the first player since Bud Cauley in 2011 to do that.
“There’s never a sure thing in this sport,” Mickelson said, “but he’s obviously a phenomenal talent and he’s proven it over the past four years. I believe in him and the person he is.”
Mickelson told his players at both San Diego and Arizona State that if he ever won a NCAA Championship, he planned to “drop the mic” and walk away from coaching. One of his most recent teams came close – the Sun Devils were ranked third entering the 2015 NCAA Championship.
After Mickelson’s departure last month, ASU moved quickly to hire Washington’s Matt Thurmond. The Sun Devils, who finished last season ranked seventh in the country, return senior Jared du Toit, who finished ninth at the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open.