SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco’s United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 38 should make Phil Mickelson an honorary member.
Now Mickelson knows what it’s like to be a plumber on emergency call.
He would have been well-served tossing a club out of his bag before Thursday’s lead-off match to the Presidents Cup and inserting a plunger.
Time after time early in the foursomes match, Mickelson waded in to clean up somebody else’s mess.
Well, Anthony Kim’s mess.
Mickelson’s superior clean-up skills kept the Americans close in a very untidy alternate-shot match until Kim got hot on the back nine and the duo put away the scrappy International team of Mike Weir and Tim Clark 3 and 2.
“We didn’t play the best the first 10 holes, obviously,” Mickelson said. “We fought to keep in the match.”
And then close it out with four consecutive birdies.
Kim wasn’t the only player struggling early. This match was so bad on the front nine it was worthy of Comedy Central’s Top 10 Plays of the Day, if they had such a thing. The sixth hole was a comedy of errors.
With Kim due up on the tee, Mickelson took a shortcut away from the fifth green to watch from aside the sixth fairway.
We’ll let Mickelson pick it up from there.
“Next thing I know, the ball is hooking over my head and is falling straight down in front of me, about 180 yards off the tee,” Mickelson said.
Kim’s wild shot ricocheted off some trees before settling near the base of a tree.
When Mickelson wandered over to inspect the lie, he heard the crack of ball against a tree on the other side of the fairway. He turned to see Weir’s drive, which was even worse than Kim’s.
“Hit a tree and came back on the cart path 70 yards,” Mickelson said. “So they’re 165 yards off the tee.”
Mickelson turned to the gallery huddling around his ball and smirked.
“And this is from the best golf has to offer,” Mickelson cracked.
Folks roared . . . and then they ducked.
Almost as if on cue, another errant shot came whistling over Mickelson’s head from another direction.
Ernie Els, playing in the match behind Mickelson, hit a hook that slammed into a cart 20 yards behind Mickelson.
This is where Mickelson got to show how clever he can be. With almost no backswing trying to punch back into the sixth fairway, he decided to turn his stance and aim left. He hit a wicked hook up the wrong fairway, on purpose. He played up the fifth fairway to give Kim a shot at the sixth green.
“When it was all said and done, we had 5-footers for bogey,” Mickelson said. “We made ours, they missed theirs and we won the hole.”
Mickelson and Kim bogeyed the second, sixth, seventh and ninth holes but were still only 1 down making the turn. That’s because Weir and Clark couldn’t make a birdie all day. Both teams shot 39 on the front nine and looked as if they might have trouble breaking 80.
“I was a little heavy on the front nine, but Phil picked me up, and fortunately I got some opportunities on the back nine,” Kim said.
The second nine didn’t start with much promise. Kim sliced his tee shot into the trees at the 10th, his ball dropping behind the giant trunk of a Cypress. Mickelson’s approach shot was blocked, but you could see his mind at work. He looked down at the ball, up at the tree trunk, up at the canopy of branches hanging down like a ceiling atop him and formulated an escape route. He hit a giant hook from 180 yards around the tree, under the branches and onto the green, 30 feet from the pin. Kim missed the birdie putt, but it was a terrific halve.
Dave Stockton, the two-time major championship winner who is now Mickelson’s putting coach, nodded approvingly.
“Foursomes is so tough,” Stockton said. “It tests everything, temperament, everything.”
Mickelson didn’t seem to mind all the tough spots Kim left him. He seemed to relish showing off how creative he can be, but he didn’t have to be in the end. Kim caught fire.
“We felt like at 1 down, if we could get just one little spark to get the round going, that’s all we needed,” Mickelson said.
At the 13th hole, Kim hit a wedge shot to 3 feet to set up Mickelson with an easy birdie putt. At the 14th tee, Kim hit a 7-iron to 18 feet and Mickelson holed another birdie putt.
“I’m feeling really good about my putting,” Mickelson said.
Really, the round was classic Mickelson and Kim, big misses, big makes and big adventure.