Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes can tell you that I rarely have mixed emotions about anything. I’ve said for years that the notion of ‘objective journalism,’ is a complete myth. We all have biases. The key to doing the job right is understanding those biases and doing the best you can to not let them interfere with your judgment or fairness.
Watching the final holes of the U.S. Open on Monday—during a break from the audio-taping session I was in most of the day—I had mixed emotions of every possible kind.
My instinct is almost always to root for the underdog in almost any situation. Maybe it has something to do with growing up as a Mets fan prior to the Miracle of 1969. Ninety-nine times out of 100 I would have been pulling for David Duval, someone I’ve known and liked for years to win the Open or, if not Duval certainly Ricky Barnes or even Lucas Glover.
Certainly I wouldn’t want to see Phil Mickelson win. It isn’t because I don’t like Mickelson—I do. He and I have always gotten along and he’s always been cooperative with me when I’ve needed to talk to him. Very cooperative in fact.
Like everyone else in golf I occasionally get tired of the Eddie Haskell routine, the sheepish, ‘gee whiz folks,’ persona which isn’t really Mickelson at all. He’s got a sharp-tongued sense of humor which is actually a lot more endearing than the ‘I’m just so happy and honored to play for Captain Nicklaus,’ bit that he does when he plays on Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup teams.
A few years ago, after one of my golf books had come out, Mickelson walked up to me in the locker room and said, “Hey, I see you have a new book out.”
“Yes I do,” I answered.
“Where’s mine?” he asked, smiling.
Since the book was on Qualifying School he hadn’t been involved. I DO try to give books to guys I interview during a book but it isn’t as easy as you might think. By contract I receive 25 books. That’s it. So, for this book, Phil wasn’t on the list.
“At Barnes and Noble, right down the street,” I replied.
Without missing a beat he drew himself up and said, “Perhaps you forget. I’m a member of The PGA Tour. We do NOT pay for anything.”
That was the real Mickelson, a needler with a sharp sense of humor.
Which is why, in spite of my underdog instincts, in spite of the fact that I actually grew a bit tired of the screeching crowds at Bethpage Black (they reminded me a little bit of the Duke students who do their Cameron Crazies bit more to draw attention to themselves than to help their team win) and in spite of the fact that the TV people would have turned a Mickelson victory into the U.S. hockey team at Lake Placid on steroids, I had to root for Mickelson.
It wasn’t so much that he’s going through the hell millions go through with his wife Amy facing surgery for cancer although how could you not be thinking about that? It was more the fact that he’s a truly great player—three majors, 36 tournament wins—who has been overshadowed by Tiger Woods through most of his career and has lived through more near misses than any golfer since Greg Norman.
Mickelson is eminently more likeable than Norman. This is a guy who schedules 45 minutes in his day EVERY day he’s at a golf course to sign autographs. I know other players roll their eyes and say that’s all part of the “act,” but the fact is he DOES it. I mentioned that to someone who works for Tiger Woods last week and got the, “if he signs for 100 people, the 101st person is going to be upset.” Do you think there isn’t a 101st person waiting for Mickelson every day? At least he makes the first 100 happy. Those numbers add up after a while.
Of course we all know now Phil couldn’t close the deal on Monday. Glover made a brilliant birdie on 16 and Phil, as he has done in the past, missed a couple of critical short putts down the stretch. It was his FIFTH second place finish at The Open. During a week of biblical rains, Mickelson was Job at the Open—again.
One of the most honest press conference answers Mickelson ever gave in his life was in 2004 when he was tied for the third round lead at the Masters with Woods nine shots behind. Asked if it would help to have Woods not right in the rear view mirror on Sunday, Mickelson abandoned the, “I’m just playing the golf course,” cliché, smiled and said, “it doesn’t suck.”
Monday’s ending—with all due respect to Glover who is a good guy—sucked. And yet, it really isn’t corny to say the far more important event for Mickelson begins on July 1st. We can ALL root for him—and for Amy—then.