Highs and lows: The joy
of Phil’s ’ 10 Masters win
(left, with wife Amy)
contrasted greatly with
Winged Foot in ’06.
so extraordinarily often without a propor-
tional reward. Of the 10 players in history
with at least 32 top- 10 finishes in major championships, only
Mickelson—whose total includes 17 top-3s—has won fewer
than seven major championships. The theme was reinforced
by Mickelson’s inability last year to capitalize on several
clean chances to finally ascend to the No. 1 ranking made
available by the fall of Tiger Woods.
For Mickelson’s legions of fans, his increasing likability
at age 41 only raises the frustration. As the goodwill from
all the accumulated autographs and eye contact mounts
up, and the respect increases both for the private way he
has dealt with the crisis of learning in May 2009 that both
his wife and mother had breast cancer as well as the discovery last year that he has psoriatic arthritis, the craving
for Phil starring in storybook endings intensifies. It was
most satisfyingly fulfilled when he won the 2010 Masters
and hugged Amy behind the 18th green. Mickelson may
never bring the sheer heat of Woods. But perhaps more
than any player, he brings warmth.
Still, in the cold analysis of winning majors, Mickelson
too often commits that which the truly great so assiduously
avoid—the big mistake. He has fallen prey more often than
Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer, who gave away their share
of majors, though perhaps less than Greg Norman. There’s
no doubt, however, that he has been much more susceptible
than the likes of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Woods.
What makes his errors that much more exasperating
is that Mickelson at times has proven he can play clean,
winning golf at the highest level. But since earning his
third green jacket, that ability has been largely on hold,
his surprise three-stroke win at Houston—which failed to
carry over the following week at Augusta—his only victory.
Indeed, after a T- 54 at the U.S. Open at Congressional, and
especially with only one top- 10 finish in 17 tries at the British Open, he flew into Sandwich decidedly under the radar.
When he took on a cheery tone at his Tuesday press
conference, he was met mostly with skepticism. Mickelson’s stated determination to have fun with links golf
seemed as gimmicky as the special 2-iron he brought out
at Congressional, or his decision not to carry a driver at
Torrey Pines in 2008.
“I’m entering this year kind of like a fresh start, if you will,”
he announced. “I’m not going to worry about past perfor-
mances and I’m going to try to learn and enjoy the challenge
of playing links golf. I’m trying to pretend like it’s my first time
here and appreciate playing the ball on the ground.”
If Mickelson’s resulting smile at times seemed artificial,
there was added substance in his golf swing. After four
years of working with Butch Harmon without dramatic
results, the principles of a more stable lower body and a
wider, less steep path through the ball took root on the
links. To his delight and increased confidence, Mickelson
found that the ballooning ball flight that had undermined
him in so many previous British Opens had been replaced
by a lower, more penetrating and straighter launch that he
could easily repeat.
“It’s night and day from previous years,” said Mickel-
son’s longtime caddie, Jim Mackay. “Before, I don’t think
Phil had the arsenal from a ball-striking standpoint. Now
he has no problem flighting the ball low, so much so that
the whole tournament he was looking forward to the
Mickelson delightedly concurred. “I hit some of the best
shots I’ve ever hit in the wind,” he said. “I was hitting the shot
I was seeing every time.” For the week Mickelson would finish
third of 71 players in greens hit in regulation, with 50.
Putting was another matter. “I’ve struggled with short
putts in this championship,” he admitted. “The greens are
di;cult for me to read because of all the little movements
as opposed to a constant slope, which you get used to in
the U.S.” But rather than becoming discouraged, Mick-