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A New Day For Mickelson

INVERNESS, SCOTLAND | There was a time, you may remember, when one of the raps against Phil Mickelson was that he couldn’t play links golf, that his aggressive style didn’t fit the windblown, hard-ground demands of the old-style game and he was too headstrong to change. The perception was Mickelson came to Scotland each summer out of obligation more than opportunity and his middling Open Championship record was used as evidence. Yet there Mickelson stood late Sunday afternoon with a biting breeze blowing off the Moray Firth, holding the silver trophy after his playoff victory over Branden Grace in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at magnificent Castle Stuart. Suddenly, the notion of Mickelson winning the Open Championship at Muirfield or someplace else in the future isn’t so outrageous. “I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered links golf. That’s overstating it,” Mickelson said, a bit of blush in his cheeks. “But this is a big step for me.” Nearly a decade ago, Mickelson committed himself to learning the links game and he displayed Sunday what he’s taught himself. He’s come close before – a second and third in previous Open Championships showed what he can do – but the win at Castle Stuart was among the most satisfying of his career. It had been a difficult day, the weather suddenly cool and rugged, and Mickelson had begun it with a double bogey at the first hole. He had fallen five strokes behind third-round leader Henrik Stenson three holes into the final round and, three hours later, Mickelson had three-putted away a chance to win the tournament on the 72nd hole, having allowed himself to think he’d already won. After the playoff-forcing bogey, Mickelson walked off the 18th green shaking his head. “How do you three-putt from that position (12 feet away)? Once you’re in that position, you probably think it’s over,” Mickelson said, admitting his own error. He signed his scorecard and was met by his family – wife Amy, daughters Sophia and Amanda and son Evan – for a group hug before he was whisked back up the hill to play the par-5 18th hole again. His caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, talked Mickelson back into the moment. “He knew he had come too far,” Mackay said. “He needed to get it done.” This time, Mickelson danced a perfectly struck 64-degree wedge off turf so firm it was practically white, flew it 44 of the needed 45 yards and saw it settle inches from the hole. A tap-in birdie gave Mickelson his first European victory in 20 years. The second family hug felt even sweeter. The Mickelsons had spent the week in an ancient Scottish castle not far from the golf course. They spent Tuesday exploring Inverness, visiting a riverside park. They studied the Battle of Culloden, which happened nearby, a bloody chapter in the history of the Scottish highlands. They listened to their castle host tell stories about the dwelling that was completed in 1620 and they studied centuries-old markings on the walls. They imagined ghosts in the old place. “We’re into that,” Amy said. One day while Mickelson was at work on the course, Amy and the children were exploring the area. They stopped at an ancient bridge, 40 feet over a small body of water. They watched some local teenagers jump into the cold water and the three Mickelson children convinced their mother to let them take the daring plunge. “Phil was so jealous,” Amy said. “It was right up his alley.” It felt like old times, Amy said, because the last time they were together here, she was still fighting the effects of her breast-cancer treatments. She was gleaming Sunday afternoon and not just because of her husband’s victory. “It feels like a milestone week for us,” she said. “I’m getting my groove back. It feels more like the old days.” “She’s herself again,” Phil said, “so, yeah, it’s like old times.” But it’s an older, wiser Mickelson when it comes to links golf. It’s not a game that comes naturally to a guy who learned golf in San Diego.


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