CHARLOTTE | Give him credit, Phil Mickelson can – at least for a moment – look at things from our perspective as opposed to seeing the world through the most amazing pair of eyes ever given to a golfer.
Mickelson has more imagination than anyone who has held a golf club, and that shot he hit at the 13th on Sunday at The Masters looked alarmingly simple to him, especially when it looked impossible to the rest of us. Ball on pine needles, trees in the way, trying to hit to a green that’s about as receptive as the hood of your car. The margin for error was exactly zero. He said the only debate was whether to hit 5-iron or 6.
It was one of the most remarkable shots in major championship history and the only disappointment was that Mickelson didn’t make the three-footer for eagle. But if he hadn’t pulled it off, he wouldn’t have his third green jacket and we’d be wondering one more time what he was thinking. It took a peek at some highlights on television to change the way he looked at it.
“If you’re on the outside looking in and you see this guy in the pine needles and the trees and stuff trying to hit a shot through the trees and around the trunks and over the water, I could see somebody questioning that,” he said. “But when you’re in it and you see the lie and you see the shot and you see the target, it doesn’t seem as daunting.
“But as I kind of looked back and saw some of the pictures, I was like, what was I doing? But it worked out.”
He had a wry smile on his face when he made that last remark, a sly smirk that says he knows things none of the rest of us knows, sees things that only he sees. On Thursday at the Quail Hollow Championship, he blew a tee shot deep into the trees on the difficult par-4 ninth. He wound up taking a driver and hitting his ball, which was lying in pine straw, through a gap that no one else would choose.
As he emerged from the woods, Golf Channel broadcaster Jerry Foltz looked at Mickelson, who grinned and said, “I was just chipping out.”
Arnold Palmer didn’t get to the World Golf Hall of Fame by coming out sideways and neither will Mickelson, who is a lock for the Hall, with 37 victories and four majors. Whether he is considered among the best who ever played will be left to others to decide, but it will largely be dependent on whether his best golf is ahead of him, as he approaches his 40th birthday in just a few weeks.
With Tiger Woods still reeling from his personal catastrophe and wobbling on unsure legs as he tries to find a competitive golf game, Mickelson will never have a better chance to win majors and secure his place among the game’s elite. For instance, the U.S. Open will be contested at Pebble Beach, a place Mickelson knows like the back of his hand, having won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am three times. Granted, the last time the Open was played at Pebble, Woods won by an obscene 15 shots. But that was then and this is now and we may never see that Tiger again. Which is all the more reason for Mickelson to take advantage of opportune situations.
As for his legendary preparation for majors – some would say it’s too much – Mickelson will depart a bit getting ready for the next major.
“Usually, I like to play the week before a major,” he said. “This year, I’m not (going to) before the Open for the reason that the grasses are so different and (Pebble Beach) is right by my house that I’ll be able to go up and get some practice rounds in the week before. So that will be a challenge to get my game sharp and ready (for the first round).”
In the meantime, he will continue to savor his Masters victory, the most emotionally moving victory of his career.
“For me personally, it’s probably the most important win that I’ve had,” he said. “Not because of not having won a major in four years or what happened at Winged Foot or anything like that, but because of the emotional tie and the tough year we’ve had and being able to share it. It just made it probably the most special tournament win that I’ve had.”
Just to remind us that Mickelson still has a bit of kid in him, he said that on the Monday after The Masters, his children wanted some Krispy Kreme doughnuts. He didn’t say whether the biggest kid wanted some, too. And so the family wound up hitting the drive-thru on Washington Road in Augusta. The server took a photo with her cell phone of the newest Masters winner in some famous green attire.
“It was a little chilly, so I threw on a jacket,” he said with a grin.
That’s certainly one way of looking at it.