You’ve seen it dozens of times. Phil Mickelson hitting shots nobody else can even see, “watch this” shots that seem doomed to wind up in a bad lie in a scum-covered pond deep in a stand of cedars, but fly magically onto the green.
We watch him stand over one of those no-way shots and wonder what he’s thinking. Is he nuts? No. He’s “Phil The Thrill” and he knows what he’s doing, even if the rest of us can’t begin to comprehend some of it. He’s won 40 times so he must know.
On top of that, he’s fearless. Sometimes, as you’ve probably heard, he winds up looking foolish. Lots of times, actually, over the years.
But he’s more fun to watch than the rest of them. He draws big crowds that love him. If he loses, hey, he gave them a show and they forgive him. Even for that goofy-looking triple bogey on the fourth hole of the final round of the Masters.
He still thinks he could make that shot out of the bamboo.
Carry two drivers? Done that. Carry no drivers? Done that. Carry five wedges? Done that. That’s Phil and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
On the eve of the Wells Fargo Championship opening Thursday at Quail Hollow Club, Mickelson was musing about why he’s never afraid to take a chance.
If you’re afraid of something, attack it, he said, and then added this advice:
“…if you don’t like snakes, go hang out with snakes a bunch.”
A licensed psychologist may not have put it that way, but it got the message across.
“...You’ve got to play without fear,” said Mickelson. “You’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to happen. You have to deal with losing. It’s part of the Tour. Out of 156 guys each week, one person is going to win, so 155 lose. But you can’t worry about that. You’ve got to let it brush off when things don’t go your way.”
Mickelson wasn’t comfortable flying, so he took flying lessons. He felt uncomfortable in certain situations, so he took up martial arts.
“I just always want to take on my fears head on,” he said. “That’s kind of the way I approach golf. If there’s a shot that I don’t feel comfortable with, I’ll go on the range and work on it until I do, until I turn that weakness into a strength.”
Mickelson can make you feel he was born to play golf, that it was a gift. And maybe it was. When he was 3 years old, he ran away from home, telling his neighbors he was going to the golf course. When he was 9, he watched Seve Ballesteros walk up the last hole at the Masters en route to victory and told his mom he would do that one day. (Which he has done three times.)
It’s in him, this game, in his easy manner, the sweep of his club, his matchless short game, his imagination, that recklessness that makes us shake our heads. He says he’s mathematically oriented, statistics oriented, but if golf is an art to anyone it’s Mickelson.
Who else would say about playing the final round of a tournament, “Just find a way to get it done. I don’t worry about mechanics. I don’t worry about ball-striking. I don’t really care where it goes because I figure I’m going to have to rely on my short game at some point.”
Phil’s back in town. Enjoy.