That Phil Mickelson can conjure thunder under clear blue skies at the PGA Championship comes as no surprise, but this was a practice round.
Mickelson jolted the folks jammed into the bleachers at the 18th hole off their feet by holing a 12-foot putt.
And it wasnt even for birdie.
That was a $100 putt, Butch Harmon, Mickelsons swing coach, said afterward.
Mickelsons putt saved him from reaching into his wallet after an 18-hole match with long-hitting Dustin Johnson. Mickelsons putt assured a push in their all-square match. As impressed as Harmon was with the nature of the fan reaction, he was more impressed by the nature of Mickelsons last stroke. He believes Mickelsons ball striking is sharp enough to win this week. He believes putting was the difference in Mickelsons runner-up finish at the U.S. Open in June and his close call at the Masters in April, and he suspects it will make the difference again this week.
Phil played really, really well at the U.S. Open, Harmon said. His ball striking's been good. He missed some short putts like he did at the Masters and that probably cost him winning.
Wednesday marked Mickelsons first practice round at Hazeltine National this week.
His day began almost as remarkably as it ended. He received a standing ovation.
Theres nothing unusual about Mickelson inspiring that, either, except it came on the driving range before he hit a shot.
Fans squeezed into the bleachers spotted him crossing the bridge to the range, and it was like some head of state had arrived. One by one, they began rising and cheering and even chanting his name.
Of course, its noisier than ever around Mickelson now because his fans are cheering for two. Though Amy, Mickelsons wife, isnt here as she recovers from breast cancer surgery, shes here in spirit. Leftys legion of fans let him know at every turn that they understand that.
Its been flattering, but whats been interesting is to see how this affects so many people, Mickelson said. Everybody has a personal story, because its affected everybodys life. Whether its their mother, sister or whether its breast cancer or another form of cancer, its shocking to me to see how this disease has affected so many people.
Mickelson will be looking to win the fourth major of his career this week. He skipped the British Open last month to be with Amy and the couples three young children. He said he isnt sure he will be able to play the Presidents Cup in October, and he isnt sure how many FedEx Cup playoff events hell play when they begin later this month. Amys treatment will dictate his schedule.
Its been an interesting year, and weve had some highs and lows, Mickelson said. And I think well have some more highs and lows for the next year or two. I think in the end, everythings going to be fine. But right now, things are day-to-day for us. Thats both golf and not golf.
Minnesotans made it clear Wednesday that they love Mickelson as much as the New Yorkers who rooted him on at Bethpage Black at the U.S. Open.
With Mickelson making his way to Hazeltine Nationals first tee to play with Fred Couples, club professional Ryan Benzel and Johnson, fans stampeded in herd-like fashion to see. They were stacked along the ropes almost the entire length of the first fairway.
Lefty is the opposite of homeless. Almost everywhere Mickelson plays, it feels like a home game. Hell have a home-field advantage again this week, though he doesnt necessarily see it that way.
You still have to execute, you still have to hit shots, Mickelson said. You still have to hit the putts and shoot the low score if you expect to win, and nobody else can pull the trigger except for you.
Dave Pelz focuses on Mickelsons short-game as a coach, but he feels what the crowds mean to his players game.
I think its part of Phils personality, and if the crowds werent there he would miss them, Pelz said. He can get inspired and play out of his mind. I think you saw it at the U.S. Open. I think he just ran out of gas there. If he had a fraction more energy, I believe he would have pulled it if off at the U.S. Open. It was a combination of emotional and physical factors, but he gave it everything he had.
People say Tiger never gives up, but Phils the same way. Ive never seen Phil give up. Ive been coaching Phils short game for six years now, and Ive never seen him not try his best over a shot. Theres no give up in Phil.
Its part of what Mickelsons legion of fans love of about him.
Phil feeds off them, Harmon said.