No 2 Fan Ful-Phil-Ment


2004 Stories of the YearEditor's note: We are counting down the top 10 stories in golf for the 2004 season. This is Story No. 2.
Phil Mickelson wears the white hat. The public ' the majority ' sees him this way. They see him sign pictures and golf balls and programs and pieces of paper by the hundreds. They see him with his pretty wife and his pretty daughters. They see him with his goofy, permanent smile.
They see him win; they see him lose. They see how he handles both. They love him for this.
They want to be Phil Mickelson. They want the pretty family and the millions of dollars and the playing golf for a living. They want this wonderful life.
And since they cant be him, they want for him. They want for the man who interacts with them and makes them feel a part of this wonderful life. They want what he wants.
They got it on April 11, 2004.
They had seen this all before ' at the U.S. Open and at the PGA Championship and at this very Masters Tournament.
They had seen him in contention for a major championship. They had seen him with his left hand on the trophy, unable to grasp it fully with his dominant right hand. They had seen him fail, again and again and again.
But they hadnt seen him in this particular situation ' with a share of the lead with 18 holes to play.
They wondered: would this be any different? This was supposed to be a new Phil Mickelson, one no longer hell-bent on power, but on precision. A Phil Mickelson reprogrammed to win major championships.
They would hope for something different this time ' but they would believe it only when they could actually see it.
And so they watched.
They watched as he bogeyed the third hole and the fifth and the sixth on this Sunday. They saw him fall three down when Ernie Els eagled the par-5 13th. They closed their eyes and they thought: no, this will not be any different.
OK, Phil, just go ahead a dump a couple of balls in the water on 12 and 13 and lets end this failed experiment.
No, no, instead lets birdie 12 and 13 and make this a tournament.
Phil did this and reopened a sea of eyes. And even when Ernie birdied 15 to go up by two, those eyes ' the thousands in Augusta and the millions around the world ' were open, wide open to hope and possibility.
And Phil had this same look in his eyes. He, too, believed.
He birdied 14 after nearly holing his approach shot. And after failing to birdie the par-5 15th, he made a birdie from 20 feet on the par-3 16th. He was tied for the lead with two holes to play.
Ernie could not birdie 17 or 18. And he could not watch. The tournament ' the one he wanted to win equally as much as his very popular opponent ' was no longer on his clubs, and all he could do was go to the practice range, hit a few balls, hope for a playoff, wait and listen to the crowd.
The crowd would certainly let Ernie, and everyone as far away as Atlanta, know of Phils fate on the final hole.
After a par on 17, Phil piped a drive down the middle of the fairway on 18, leaving himself 162 yards to the pin. He then hit his approach shot ' just his 30th swing on the back nine this Sunday ' just beyond the flagstick.
They watched him as he walked up the final hole. They saw him wave and smile, and it was for them. And this putt, should it fall, would be for them as much as him, as well.
They all would have to wait for the result of this putt. But this was a good thing. Phils playing companion, Chris DiMarco, was mired in the front greenside bunker. He would excavate his ball onto the green, almost on top of Phils marker ' but just beyond.
So Chris would have to putt first. Everyone watched, but none more studiously than Phil. Chris would miss left; Phil would make sure he did not.
Phils putt was said to be distanced at 18 feet between ball and hole. But its importance was immeasurable.
How could you measure the worth of major championship ' for a man who had never won one; for a man who had played in 47 of them; for a man who had worn this losing label like a scarlet letter?
And so they watched. They watched as the ball left from the putter. They watched as it tracked towards the hole. They watched as it tried to escape on the left side. They watched as it was pulled inside by the cups edge.
They exploded before the ball could clang the plastic bottom. They screamed and hugged and watched as their man jumped in the air and threw his hands much higher.
And in the distance, Ernie Els closed his eyes and shook his head. He knew. He didnt have to see.
They watched as Phil hugged and kissed his pretty wife and his pretty daughters. They watched as he put both arms inside a green jacket. They watched as he held aloft the replica of the Augusta National clubhouse.
He had always promised them that this day would come.
They had finally seen what they had always wanted to see. And it was better than they ever could have imagined it to be.
Related Links:
  • 2004 Year in Review
  • Full Coverage - 2004 Masters