Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the March 14 issue of Golfweek.
DORAL, Fla — Desperately, a sense of comfort and order was needed, given how so much negativity – the politics, the contentiousness, the bluster – had ushered everyone into the House of Donald with all of its stress.
Perhaps, then, the timing could not have been more perfect to wonder about this World of Phil with all of its intrigue.
In contrast to the divisiveness, does not Phil Mickelson’s sense of adventure invite harmony? In contrast to so much turmoil, does Lefty still not promote a level of light-hearted wonder?
For instance, what might Mickelson have been had he not gone into professional golf?
“An astronaut,” said Mickelson’s wife, Amy. “He thinks on that scale, where nothing is impossible.”
She knows him well.
“I still may try on some of these private space deals,” Mickelson said. “I still want to go out into space. They have some lunar hotels coming out, and I’ve studied a lot about the universe in general and it would have been something I would have been greatly interested in.”
To infinity and beyond?
Maybe. But not quite yet, because the glory of Phil Mickelson is this: In his 25th year in pro golf and on the threshold of a 46th birthday, he sauntered into the WGC-Cadillac Championship, his 532nd PGA Tour tournament, with a bounce in his step and an enthusiasm in his heart that is infectious to his peers.
On a week when the outspoken Trump was everywhere – even before he arrived in person – when Adam Scott overcame a six-shot deficit over the final 13 holes to win for a second consecutive week, when Rory McIlroy appeared to dust off his strut, and Bubba Watson seemingly stamped himself Augusta-ready, it was impossible not to appreciate that the oldest competitor in the field by three years had arguably the freshest spirit for the game.
Perhaps, because Mickelson continues to view golf as part of his journey in life.
“(Golf) has been very meditative for me, very spiritual, in that I’m able to focus and then let go,” Mickelson said.
“I’m able to be alone on the course and work on solitude. I’m able to hang with buddies. I’m able to be with friends. As I look through it, golf’s been a lot more for me than just being economics-based.”
Splitting from the security of swing coach Butch Harmon for the unproven Andrew Getson, re-tooling his swing at 45, embracing the challenge of ending his longest winless drought ever (it is at 52 after he was tied for the lead early in Round 4, before finishing fifth at the Cadillac Championship, his third top 5 in six starts this season) . . . none of it fazes Mickelson.
“He’s not an adrenaline junkie,” Tour pro Hunter Mahan said, “but he likes to throw a chip out there and see what he’s going to do.”
Remember the tryout he had with the Toledo Mud Hens? Much like hitting shots off of cart paths and approaches from pine straw to the 13th green with a Masters on the line, he wasn’t afraid to fail.
Self-belief, he has; so much of it, in fact, that he shares it.
“You get confidence just being around him,” competitor Gary Woodland said.
But do you get insight into what Mickelson might have been had he not pursued golf? Smiles abound, because, yes, colleagues appreciate that there is depth to Mickelson, and the left-hander isn’t afraid to express interest in many slices of life.
“He can definitely make it sound like he knows more than he does,” Rickie Fowler said, smiling. “But he knows a lot about a lot of things; it’s pretty impressive.”
Said Jason Gore: “He is our Cliff Clavin,” in reference to the know-all barfly of “Cheers” TV fame.
In his yearbook at Arizona State, Mickelson wrote, “I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with my degree after I graduate, but I am planning to go pro.”
Turns out, Lefty never did intend to pursue anything in his major, psychology.
“I just found it fascinating at the time,” he said.
Trouble is, Mickelson is the quintessential glass-is-half-full guy. “I don’t like to deal with negatives all the time, so (psychology) might not have probably been the thing for me.”
What could have been for him?
“I think he likes figuring out things and finding another way around a puzzle,” Mahan said.
“I can see him wanting to use his brain to pioneer some cure,” Paul Casey said. “Or, I could see him as an archaeologist. I know they own a dinosaur bone (actually, a dinosaur head, given by Amy to Phil on his 39th birthday). But he’d be doing something that was out there, wouldn’t he?”
Several players said they saw Mickelson as a politician.
Gore: “He’d be running for president.”
Brendan Steele: “Honestly, he could be mayor of San Diego.”
It’s understandable to picture such an avenue for Mickelson. After all, “one of his strengths is talking to people,” Keegan Bradley said, and Gore added that Mickelson “would have to be moving and shaking somewhere.”
Mickelson isn’t so sure. “I don’t know if (politics) would have been for me or not.”
To the string of players who suggested Mickelson likely would have been a lawyer, guess what? “I’ve wanted to go to law school – and I still might,” he said.
With the emphasis on “still might,” there seems to be a door opened to law school. (We’re thinking the PGA Tour Champions is not a high priority.) Don’t laugh. Take it from players who have grown friendly with Mickelson: Don’t underestimate the man’s powers of determination and curiosity.
Case in point: Mickelson’s love of aviation. Well known is that he owns and flies his own jet. Also well known is that his father was a fighter pilot in the Navy. Less known is that Mickelson has harbored a desire to serve in the military and has taken steps to quench that thirst.
“I went through flight training and earned a flight citation,” Mickelson said. “One of the things I practice is long-range sniper-shooting. I’ve wanted (to take classes) for decades, and I finally just started six months ago.”
Fowler said he hears Mickelson talk a lot about the sniper-shooting stuff and the military and has come to understand that you never know where conversations will go.
“He gets very intrigued if there are new things,” Fowler said. “You have to leave everything open with him.”