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For the Love of the Game

  • Waste Management Phoenix OpenSCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – After a 25-minute news conference in the cart barn turned press center at TPC Scottsdale, Phil Mickelson lumbered out to the area where the writers work, half smile affixed to his familiar face.

Sure, the images that linger in the minds of many golf fans are the leap into the air after he’d shed the burden at the 2004 Masters and the hug with Amy after he’d won again last April. But more personally, when I think of Phil I think of a big guy with a little smile lumbering along.

He headed toward Steve Sands and me.

“Hey where can I get those Yockee’s hot dogs?” he asked, extending a hand in greeting.

“You mean Yocco’s,” I said. “You saw 'Morning Drive', I guess.”

“Yeah, I did,” he said.

I’d mentioned the legendary hot dog joint of my hometown on the show, and if you’re ever passing through Allentown, Pa., make it a priority to scarf down two with everything and chocolate milk.

His meat-less experiment at an end, Phil was intrigued. I informed him that Yocco’s sends doggie packs around the world to discerning doggie connoisseurs.

“Tell you what,” he said, “after my next win send a pack my way.”

“Done,” I said.

It might arrive as soon as next week. “I feel like my game is pretty sharp,” he said.

That it was at Torrey Pines, but for a poor tee shot on the 72nd hole, overlooked in the spectacle of the tended flag.

For what it’s worth, the idea of holing a 72-yard shot is hardly whimsical. For most it might be, but not for Phil.

“I do a towel drill where I try to fly my irons a specific yardage,” he explained. “And I hit 1,500 balls a month to those specific yardages and have for the last seven years.

“So when I get a wedge shot like No. 18 at Torrey, that’s 72 yards and my towel drill number is 75, I only have to alter it 3 yards to get it to fly to my number.

“And over seven years of doing this I can usually fly it within a yard 95 percent of the time.”

On the subject of specific numbers, Phil is one win from tying Tom Watson and Cary Middlecoff for ninth on the all-time victory list with 39. His sights stretch even further.

“I think there’s a magic number of 50 wins,” he said. “And I’m 12 away. I really think that’s an attainable goal and maybe in a short period of time. To be able to do it in this day and age would be a great accomplishment.

'I feel like I have some of my best golf coming up. From this point forward my game is more about refinement and touch and creativity and shot-making as opposed to golf swing.”

He’s healthy. His family’s healthy. He’s as jazzed about this sport as he was 20 years ago.

“I’ll tell you why,” he said. “In the last year and a half I realized how much I love golf and how much I’ve used it throughout my life as a way of dealing with things on and off the golf course.

“It’s a place where I’m at peace. I’ve never felt like it was a job. The last year and a half as we’ve gone though a difficult time, I’ve become even more aware of how much I love it.”

Fans know what he’s been through. They sense how much he loves the game. It’s why he’s now the only player who inspires the nearly universal response in a tight tournament with four holes to go. “Come on Phil, we need this one!”

Make it two. Two with everything.