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Monday, April 12, 2010

Phil Mickelson goes from Pink to Green




Green jacket a fitting -- and overdue -- happy ending for Mickelsons
great article from steve elling www.sportsline.com
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It was the obvious question, for many reasons, some of which probably didn't even occur to her.
Amy Mickelson, attending her first golf tournament in 11 months because of a nasty battle with breast cancer, had just watched her husband win his third Masters title and still had a quivery voice when I put forth the question that made her go into emotional shutdown. Do you believe in karma?
"You know, I am a believer in a lot of things right now," she said before the magnitude of the moment washed over her and she was whisked away to the family celebration in the famed Butler Cabin.
Sappy as it sounds, tears never tasted so sweet -- and not just for the Mickelsons.
In a poignant ending that was wondrous for all the right reasons, Phil Mickelson shot a 5-under 67 and finished 16 under on Sunday to don the green jacket for the third time at Augusta National, giving his family and the game of golf a shot of decidedly good news after one of its darkest periods ever.
Mickelson's wife was diagnosed with cancer last May and Phil's mother, Mary, got similar news only a few days later. It was a double-whammy that only close friends and family members have completely grasped. Given her reaction to her medication, Amy has been bedridden and hasn't been to the golf course since the Players Championship last May. Mary Mickelson walked the front nine during two of her son's rounds.
So it wasn't just a tonic for the troops, it was a pick-me-up for the entire sport, which has suffered tremendously during the five-month-long Tiger Woods scandal, a.k.a. the biggest story in golf for all the wrong reasons.
As more than a few pointed out, the disgruntled bishop in Caddyshack, bummed out because of a dream round that went sideways, was wrong: There is a god. No knock on Lee Westwood or K.J. Choi or Fred Couples, but the right guy won. If anybody disagreed, they were not within 50 yards of the 18th green as Amy Mickelson's husband walked up the hill to find his entire family assembled outside the scoring shed.
Waiting to greet Mickelson were Amy and their three kids, both of his parents, Amy's parents, swing coach Butch Harmon, Phil's younger brother Tim, and caddie Jim Mackay's wife, Jen. Eyes welled and throats locked up tighter than the Augusta membership policies. Harmon, a former military man, turned away, removed his sunglasses and dabbed at his cheeks. Mackay, Mickelson's caddie for 18 years, buried his face in a soiled golf towel outside the scoring center, unable to speak. There wasn't a dry eye in the area, and not just because the pollen count this week could have choked a horse.
Amy hugged Phil like he was a G.I. coming back for shore leave, holding the embrace for 30 seconds. Like the entirety of the family illnesses, they handled the moment with class and dignity. A million cameras documented the heartrending reunion.
"Not much was said," Lefty said.
The picture was worth a million words. It marked Mickelson's fourth major and third title at Augusta since 2004. You can guess where it ranks in terms of familial popularity.
"This is probably more meaningful to him and his family than the first two were," said Steve Loy, Phil's longtime agent and college coach.
Take out the "probably" and he nailed it.
Two days earlier, I had posed a question to Lefty's father (also named Phil) about what the victory would mean to the family because it seemed as though there was something magical brewing this week. He guessed at the time that it might finally break up the black medical cloud that has enveloped the family for nearly a year. He sold it short.
"You asked me that question earlier this week, and it was all of that and more," he said quietly. "It's just such a neat ending, a neat time for the family to all be together in a very positive way. I'm so happy for Phil, the whole family, and for his success, based on all the work he has done."
Mary Mickelson walked the front nine on Sunday, then trekked to the clubhouse because there were about 30,000 fans following her son's group and she couldn't see much. She watched on TV and awaited Amy's arrival.
"It was just an incredible day," Mary said. "It's a tremendous lift. You don't think it is going to happen, and you hope that it will, and then you come out here, and the way he responds to this course, and the way people respond to him, it just was a boost.
"Then, when Amy arrived, it was just the top of the cake."
Amy watched on television at the family's rented home until after her husband played the 13th hole, which will be recalled fondly at Augusta for as long as they play golf tournaments. Mickelson pulled his drive into the trees and found his ball nestled in the pine straw, 205 yards from the flag.
The fact that there was a 50-foot pine tree situated two yards in front of him blocking his view of the green didn't dissuade him from going for the green on the short par-5 hole in two -- even though he was already leading by a shot at the time.
As soon as Phil birdied the 12th to take a two-shot lead, Amy knew she was going to crawl out of bed and head to the course to surprise him afterward. But she waited until he finished the fateful 13th first because it's his favorite hole. And that was before he played it in a head-shaking 6 under this week.
After nearly 20 years together, she knew he was going to go for the green. He knocked the ball within three feet and birdied the hole.
"My phone has been ding, ding, ding, ding with all the texts and calls all day," said Amy, one of the most popular wives on tour. "But when he hit that shot, I think it dinged 30 times and everybody was, like, 'Amy, best shot I have ever seen. Win or lose, that's hands down the best shot ever.'"
Um, lose?
"I could tell, in the trees, 'oh my gosh, he is thinking about going for it,'" she said. "The body language, I can tell a lot from his body language. I like that in him, and I know people say sometimes that it's a mistake, or ask why he did that.
"I don't. I believe in him and I have seen shots like that win so many tournaments. A lot of those shots are the reason he has so many victories. I know he wasn't coming out today to try to finish second."
Even Woods, who seemed destined to play the spoiler's role and had some questioning whether there's such a thing as kismet, couldn't screw up the providence of this one. By the way, for those who believe Woods is kryptonite to every other star, Mickelson, 39, has won the last three tournaments in which both stars have played.
What a week it must have been at the Mickelsons' two rented abodes. Phil's oldest daughter, Amanda, fell and broke a wrist on Saturday while roller skating and they had to take her in for X-rays and a splint at around 10 p.m.
So, yeah, they were due a few positive breaks, no? Two wayward Mickelson drives on Sunday caromed off trees or spectators and found their way back into play, so somebody up there was finally paying attention.
Amy was unable to keep her composure as she watched the last few hours unfold. She had no trouble admitting it.
"It's very surreal and very overwhelming, and I am just so proud of him," she said, pausing several moments to swallow the golf-ball-sized frog in her throat. "Just being here, it's just good to be somewhere where it feels, just, normal. I mean, I would not call this normal, but just to kind of be here and be together and be at a tournament, because it's been so long, almost a year."
While her husband was off receiving hosannas of his own, a parade of well-wishers hugged Amy and patted her gently on the back. If it had been at all possible -- the simple act of walking makes her tired and occasionally queasy -- she would have been out far sooner. But the admittedly sappy, emotional, blubbery appearance with the kids on the 18th was worth the wait.
"I have been trying to stay at the house and rest so that I wouldn't get sick, because probably if I had come out here it would have been too much," she said. "I just wanted him to concentrate on winning the Masters this week and to worry about him, and not about whether I was sick or I was out here walking and not doing well."
Typical Amy, still taking one for the team.
She said the crying jags began on the 12th hole. For a moment, I couldn't remember what her husband had done on the tricky par-3, where his final-round hopes last year were dashed by a double-bogey. This time, he rammed home a clutch 20-footer.
"No, no, it was a birdie," Amy laughed. "It was a good cry."
Finally, mercifully and long overdue.









Phil, Phil, Thank God
good article from john garrity si.com
The Phil people are delirious. The Tiger people are devastated.
The good guy, a green jacket draped comfortably over his open-collared polo, addresses an adoring crowd at sunset. The bad boy, who was last seen walking past the clubhouse in his no-longer-bulletproof red victory shirt, heads for home (wherever that is) to the yawns of a surfeited tabloid press.
The winner's family — the adoring wife, the two daughters, the mischievous son, the proud mother — wrap him in hugs and kisses. The third runner-up's wife and kids …. well, they're out there somewhere. Possibly on another continent.
Phil Mickelson's third Masters win is as emotionally satisfying as it gets, for obvious reasons. A cancer-battling wife. A cancer-battling mom. Three anxious kids. CBS commentator Jim Nantz practically tapped it in backhanded when he tagged Mickelson's tournament-winning putt with a sonorous, "That's a win for the family." But it was more than that, thanks to Tiger Woods's ragged, sometimes brilliant, but mostly desperate play on Sunday. It was a parable of comeuppance, a High-Def dispersion of just deserts.
For more than a decade, after all, Phil has been eating Tiger's dust. Before Sunday, his 37 PGA Tour wins and three major titles were compared unfavorably to Tiger's 71 and 14, respectively. Phil was famous for screwing up. (He hit the hospitality tent at Winged Foot! He yanked it into the ocean at Pebble Beach!) Tiger was lionized for buckling down. (He won by 12 at St. Andrews! He beat a U.S. Open field on a broken leg!)
Phil played low-percentage golf. Tiger always played it smart. Phil changed equipment companies on the eve of a Ryder Cup. Tiger made his equipment company adapt to him. Phil made millions. Tiger was said to be pushing a billion. On top of those indignities, you had the perception — encouraged by Woods — that Phil couldn't handle pressure. Who can forget the look of contempt that Tiger gave partner Phil eight years ago, when Lefty nearly yanked his tee shot out-of-bounds on the final hole of a Ryder Cup alternate-shot match.
If Tiger was steak, a columnist wrote, Phil was salad.
Well, that's no longer the case. Phil was the high-cholesteral golfer the past week, seizing the stage on Saturday afternoon with a three-hole, five-under-par stretch that Bobby Jones couldn't have imagined in his wildest dreams. Was Phil dangerously bold at times? Yes he was. His final-round 5-iron to the 13th green — snaked between two pines and plopped down a yard past the bank of Rae's Creek — was total Tin Cup madness. And it made you vibrate to your core, having been privileged to witness it.
It was the sort of shot we've come to expect from a charging Woods. And to be fair, the returned-from-tabloid-hell philanderer hit a number of Tigeresque shots during his four-birdie, two-eagle final round. Overall, however, Tiger looked like Mickelson at his most erratic, driving balls into adjoining fairways, playing pinball in the trees, and on the 14th green — mirabile dictu! — taking three putts of less than five feet in the space of fifteen seconds. Blame Tiger's frantic, lurchy swing on his five-month layoff if you like, but at least consider the possibility that he may never master the Hank Haney-authored swing drills he has been practicing for years.
But if swings are hard to master, relationships can be that much tougher. The pre-scandal Woods seemed to understand that. He set up house with a photogenic blonde, just like Phil. He fathered a couple of adorable kids, just like Phil. He looked for his loved ones in the crowd after sinking the winning putt, just like Phil.
But that's where Tiger drew the line. He craved a different kind of intimacy.
That's why, at the end of the day, it's the sight of the emotional Mickelson, locked in a never-ending embrace with his plucky wife, that drives home the point.
Phil's got it all. Tiger's got nothing.

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