Mickelson elicits a range of emotions

By Joe PosnanskiJune 14, 2013, 6:16 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – There’s a pretty famous story about Phil Mickelson that, more or less, cuts to the heart of things. When he was 14 years old, living in San Diego, he slipped out of the house on Thanksgiving and asked a neighbor to drive him to the course so he could hit golf balls. He missed Thanksgiving dinner, which upset everyone, especially his mother Mary, who demanded to know just what he was thinking.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have gone,” Phil said, “but Ben Hogan said that every day you don’t practice is one day longer before you achieve greatness.”

Mary, defeated, looked at her son and said: “Oh, all right then.”

Now, how does this story make you feel? Do you like the kid at the heart of it? Do you find him earnest and resourceful and harmlessly mischievous? Or do you dislike him, think he’s a bit too smart, too glib, do you think that he’s playing a con?

That was almost 30 years ago. And in so many ways, people are still asking the same questions about Phil Mickelson.

For a few years now, I’ve had a little golf hobby: I’ve been trying to figure out why some people really despise Phil Mickelson. As you know, this week Phil Mickelson scrapped his U.S. Open practice so he could fly home to California and be in the audience when his oldest daughter Amanda graduated from the eighth grade.

It fits his profile as a family guy. Mickelson wore a beeper at the 1999 U.S. Open – his wife Amy was due any day – and promised he would leave in the middle of the round if it went off. He took so much time off after Amanda was born that people jokingly asked which one of them had the baby. He once skipped the British Open to spend time with Amy when she was battling cancer.

Then, it’s not just family stuff. He’s done countless charitable things – especially helping children get better education and supporting the military. You might know this one: When he heard the story of former football bad guy Conrad Dobler, who had fallen on hard times after wife was paralyzed, he reached out and paid for their daughter Holli’s college education. Thing is, as someone close to Mickelson says, he does things like that all the time. He just doesn’t like anyone to know.

Then it’s not just family and charity. Every single day on the golf course, he signs autographs for at least 20 minutes. He puts it into his schedule. It rarely stops at 20 minutes. He tips big, he smiles to the crowd, he talks with kids as he walks by and, if you ever want to hear gushing compliments, just walk up to a marshal, any marshal, and ask what they think of Phil Mickelson.

Then, it’s not just family and charity and being a nice guy. Mickelson has always seemed to have priorities straight. This, he will say, comes from his parents. Father Phil Sr. was a fighter pilot who demanded that his son make smart choices and get his education. Mother Mary took a second job to help pay for Phil Jr.’s golf life and she wanted him to embrace life and compete like heck. He graduated from Arizona State before he turned pro. He watched the way Arnold Palmer gave back to his fans and tried to emulate that. He remembers being in the hospital in 2003, when his baby son Evan was struggling to breathe and Amy had a ruptured artery, and he softly prayed and whispered that he would try to make a difference in people’s lives. He has done that.

Phil Mickelson

Not to say that any of this makes Mickelson perfect or anything close – even friends will talk about his wise-guy traits, and his nonfriends on Tour will talk about him being ingratiating and arrogant. A nickname that emerged of him years ago on Tour is FIGJAM, which supposedly stands for “F--- I’m Good, Just Ask Me” (though two players have told me that he has mellowed considerably since the FIGJAM days).

Still, why is it that so many people loathe the guy? I’m not talking about Tiger Woods fans or Rory McIlroy fans who dislike him because he’s the opposition. I’m also not talking about people who like to root against Mickelson in the same way they like to root against the good guy professional wrestlers and NASCAR drivers.

No, there have always been people who deeply and thoroughly dislike Phil Mickelson because, well, they just do. In a quick Twitter poll that simply asked – Phil Mickelson: Love, loathe, don’t care – almost a third of the people said “loathe.”

“Big phony,” one says. “Represents everything that is awful about golf,” says another.

It has been a common theme. In 2006, for instance, GQ Magazine listed the “10 Most Hated Athletes.” This was a list the included Barry Bonds, Terrell Owens and A.J. Pierzynski, who lives to be hated. Phil Mickelson was No. 8 on the list.

But when you read the actual story you find … there was no reason there. There were a couple of anonymous reporters saying that he had no friends on Tour. One questioned Mickelson’s sincerity when he wore that beeper (“Everybody’s saying, ‘Oh God, I want that beeper to go off,’” one anonymous writer told GQ). There was something about the time he criticized Tiger Woods’ equipment, and something else about changing his own equipment just before the 2004 Ryder Cup.

In other words: It was a whole lot of nothing.

And, I have found, that has been a constant theme. A lot of people I know despise Phil Mickelson. But when I ask WHY they despise him, they tend to speak in vague generalities and blurry images. He’s a PHONY, they say. He’s UNCTIOUS, they say. ANNOYING, they say. He’s just PRETENDING to be a nice guy, a family guy, a caring guy. And, when I ask for examples, they might talk about one of his few public missteps (like the time earlier this year he spoke out about taxes) or his out-there hair or the walk he walks or offer a nebulous story about this one time he sort of said something kind of irritating.

More likely, they will just say he should have won more major championships.

Here’s another pretty famous story about Mickelson that cuts to the heart of things. In 2006, he blew the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. It was really that simple. He came to the 18th hole needing a par, and then after he hit a driver off a tent, his second shot hit a tree. His third splashed into a bunker. His double bogey lost the tournament.

After it ended, Mickelson did what few have ever done. He went out in front of the fans and publicly apologized for playing the way he did. Then he went in front of the assembled media and emotionally apologized again. “I’m such an idiot,” he said. “I just couldn’t hit a fairway. … I just can’t believe I couldn’t par the last hole.”

Now, how does the story make you feel? Do you like the guy at the heart of it? Do you think him honest and forthright and all too human? Or do you find the whole thing kind of calculated?

Mickelson has never won the U.S. Open, but he has finished second five times. Of course, that’s a record.

In 1999, at Pinehurst, he was simply beaten down the stretch by a whirlwind named Payne Stewart, who one-putted five of the last seven holes to beat Mickelson by a shot.

In 2002, Tiger Woods simply outplayed him at Bethpage Black in New York.

In 2004, at Shinnecock Hills, Mickelson beat himself. He led by a shot going into the 17th, and the moment overwhelmed him. He plunked the ball in the bunker, slashed out to 8 feet, missed the par putt and then missed the comeback bogey putt.

In 2006, at Winged Foot, Mickelson imploded.

In 2009, back at Bethpage Black, Mickelson was deeply distracted because Amy had just been diagnosed with cancer. It would be the last tournament he played for almost two months. And he put on a last-day charge that actually tied him for the lead at one point, but he stumbled a bit down the stretch and finished in a four-way tie for second.

These five tournaments are generally brought up as a package, and for many they define the golfing career of Mickelson – close to great, but not quite great. He has won four major championships, which is more than Greg Norman or Fred Couples or Nick Price. He has won 41 PGA Tour events, which is more than Johnny Miller and Fred Couples put together.

The feeling is that, with his talent, he should have won more.  The feeling is that with his talent, he should have held his own against the great Tiger Woods and been more of a rival, a Watson to his Nicklaus, a Frazier to his Ali.

Then again: Take a look at this, since the beginning of 2004:

Woods: Six major championships, 39 PGA Tour victories

Mickelson: Four major championships, 21 PGA Tour victories.

No, it’s not as good. It’s hard to compare yourself with Tiger Woods. But it IS good. It’s Hall of Fame good. People spend so much time talking about Mickelson’s all-too obvious talents – and it is true that his touch and feel and ability to hit the miraculous shot rank with the best who have ever played golf – that they tend to miss how much he’s gotten out of a long swing and inconsistent putter. 

They also tend to miss how big a role his preparation and strategizing – this week, he is playing without a driver and with five wedges – and hard work have helped him succeed. Especially hard work. Woods does TV commercials where he is outside hitting golf balls in the rain. Mickelson does TV commercials where he appears from behind a tree to lecture some pure schlub about the ethics of golf. But those are just TV commercials. People who know Mickelson best speak in awe about the effort he puts into preparing for a golf tournament, especially now that he’s about to turn 43.

“He’s just doesn’t make a big show of it,” a friend of his says. “It looks like he just shows up and plays. Nothing could be further from the truth. The guy works ridiculously hard on all aspects of his game. … You’ll see it over the next four or five years. He’s going to be the best old golfer since (Sam) Snead.”

Phil Mickelson and family

The tax thing was wildly out of character for Mickelson. He came out early this year and griped about how much he was paying in taxes – he claimed it was 62 or 63 percent, which was probably an exaggeration – and hinted that he might have to do something drastic like leave California. The opinion might be his, and high taxes is an issue many people feel strongly about, but it was out of character for him to be so unguarded. He opened the door for people to jump him, which they did.

Mickelson quickly tried to take it back. He said that he had messed up by using his position to be political. He apologized for being insensitive to people who are struggling to find work or are living paycheck to paycheck. He called it one of his dumb, dumb mistakes. But it was out. The people who want to despise Mickelson, well, they had their reason now. This, they could say, is what he’s REALLY like.

Is it what Mickelson is really like? Here’s another version – Mickelson and his wife Amy every year do this event in San Diego called “Start Smart,” where they take more than 1,500 underprivileged kids on a back-to-school shopping spree. One year, they heard from a teacher who talked about a family of three children who had started coming to class every day and were doing very well. They used to come to school sporadically because they had only one pair of shoes to share.

Or this version – Mickelson, on his way to the practice round of the 2005 PGA Championship, saw a young man named David Finn in a wheelchair. He did what he always does; he stopped, said “hello” and gave David a signed glove. Finn followed Mickelson around during the tournament, occasionally earning an acknowledgment or a wave. When Mickelson won, he asked Finn to come on over and have his picture taken with the Wanamaker Trophy. They have been friends since.

Or this version – in Charlotte this year, he stood in the rain signing autographs. And when the 20 minutes were up, he stayed out there and kept signing, and kept signing, and all the way he thanked people for coming up, for staying in the bad weather, for being golf fans. Maybe a cynic would say it was for show. But it was really quite a show.

There’s one more pretty famous story about Phil Mickelson that more or less gets to the heart of things. This week, he left the U.S. Open to go see his daughter Amanda speak at her eighth-grade graduation. She had told him that he did not have to do that, she understood how much the U.S. Open meant – and let’s be honest, it was an EIGHTH GRADE graduation – but he went anyway. He did not want to make a big deal out of it. It was kind of routine, he works on this kind of schedule for corporate outings.

But it was a pretty big deal – leaving the U.S. Open just before tee-off to fly across the country for your daughter. And so, one more time, you ask: Do you like the guy at the heart of the story?

As a father who has attempted similar schedule loop-de-loops for relatively ordinary children’s moments, I was touched by his choice – even if he had a private jet to help. A lot of people felt that way.

Others who note the U.S. Open void in his career record and that time is running out, wondered if he was simply not serious enough about winning. Still others thought it was typical Phil Mickelson and a whole lot of show.

Yes, with Mickelson, it’s never easy. People will feel very differently about him. But I do wonder – does the way any golf fan feels about Phil Mickelson actually say anything about Phil Mickelson? Or is it really about us?

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Miller's biggest on-air regret: Leonard at Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:00 am

Johnny Miller made a broadcasting career out of being brutally honest, calling golf tournaments exactly like he saw them.

His unfiltered style is what kept him on the air for nearly 30 years, but it wasn't always the most popular with players.

After announcing his upcoming retirement, Miller was asked Tuesday if there were any on-air comments he regretted over the last three decades. One immediately came to mind.

"I think that I didn't say the right words about Justin Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV. I meant really - I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that," Miller recalled. "I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."

After struggling on Friday and Saturday in team play, Leonard ended up the U.S. hero after halving his Sunday singles match with José María Olazábal by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole - one of the most famous shots in Ryder Cup history.

"Of course he ended up - after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45-, 50- foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something."

Not only did the putt seal the comeback for the U.S., but it also earned Leonard an apology from Miller. 

"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."

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Love him or not, Miller's authentic style stood out

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2018, 10:11 pm

The comment was vintage Johnny Miller, raw enough to cause most television producers to wince.

Miller was in the NBC Sports booth at Doral in 2004 when he watched Craig Parry hit another beautiful shot to the green. Miller said what he saw. That was his job.

He just didn't say it like other golf analysts.

''The last time you see that swing is in a pro-am with a guy who's about a 15-handicap,'' Miller said. ''It's just over the top, cups it at the bottom and hits it unbelievably good. It doesn't look ... if Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke.''

Parry got the last word, of course, holing out a 6-iron from 176 yards in a playoff to win.

Except that wasn't the last word.

''I was in Ponte Vedra going back to the Honda Classic, and my phone is blowing up,'' said Tommy Roy, the longtime golf producer at NBC. ''It started percolating down in Australia, and you had radio stations demanding Johnny Miller be fired.''

Miller could make golf more fun to hear than to watch.

''He doesn't have a filter. That's why he's so good,'' Roy said. ''What he's thinking comes out. And 99.5 percent of the time, that was a great thing for viewers, and for me. And 0.5 percent of the time, it was a problem for our PR department and for me.

''And it was worth it.''

Roy was in Wisconsin on Monday night for his first look at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1989 that doesn't have Miller in the booth weighing in on good shots and bad with thoughts that immediately become words.

He often entertained. He occasionally irritated. He was rarely dull.

Miller is retiring after three decades calling the shots for NBC. His last tournament will be the Phoenix Open, the perfect exit for a Hall of Fame player once known as the ''Desert Fox'' for winning six times in Arizona. Miller was so good for so long that it was easy for younger generations to forget about that other career he had.

Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

Best of: Photos of Miller through the years

And to think that was nearly his only career in golf.

Miller said he wasn't interested when NBC first approached him, but then his wife stepped in and told him it would be nice to have a steady paycheck. Even then, it took time for him to realize his audience was in the living room, not the locker room.

He made his debut at the Bob Hope Classic in 1990 and it didn't take long for him to leave his mark. Peter Jacobsen faced an awkward lie to the 18th green with water to the left.

''The easiest shot to choke on,'' Miller said.

People thought about choking. Miller said it because that's what he was thinking.

''What came into his brain came out of his mouth,'' said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports. ''He was the first to really talk about the pressure. It's the most important element of the game, especially in those really big moments. He was doing it at a time when others weren't.''

It wasn't just the word ''choke.''

Phil Mickelson was getting up-and-down from everywhere at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Miller suggested that if Lefty weren't such a good putter he'd be selling cars in San Diego. Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing a fourballs match at the 1999 Ryder Cup when Miller blurted out, ''My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television.''

During the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods won in 19 holes over Rocco Mediate, Miller suggested that guys named ''Rocco'' don't get their name on the trophy, and that Mediate looked like ''the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool.''

It wasn't all bad.

Roy, who also has produced NBA Finals and Olympics, said he wants analysts who first-guess, not second-guess. The latter is for talk radio. First-guessing means sharing instincts, and Miller had plenty of them.

Woods was playing the final hole at Newport in the 1995 U.S. Amateur when Miller said, ''It wouldn't surprise me if he knocked this thing a foot from the hole.''

And that's just what Woods did.

McCarley remembers how retired NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol used to worry whenever Miller called because he thought it was about retirement. McCarley soon inherited that feeling.

''Every time I'd see Johnny's number pop up on my cellphone, my heart would skip a beat,'' McCarley said. ''Two years ago, he made that call I had been dreading.''

McCarley kept him working a slightly reduced schedule, but no longer. Miller is 71 and has been on the road for 50 years. His 24th grandchild was born on Sunday. He wants to teach them fly fishing in Utah, perhaps even a little golf.

Miller wasn't sure he would last a week when he started. He never imagined going nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind a style all his own.

Most loved it. Some didn't. But everyone listened, and that might be his legacy in the broadcast booth. Roy said what he has heard from viewers he knows is that 70 percent really like Miller, and 30 percent really don't.

''But they all have an opinion,'' he said.

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Web.com Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."