Amid stress of Open, Mickelson makes a 9-year-old's day

Phil Mickelson tees off on the second hole during the first round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield.

Phil Mickelson tees off on the second hole during the first round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield.

GULLANE, Scotland – If you’ve ever wondered why Phil Mickelson is such a huge draw with galleries all over the world, then you had to be beside the 15th green in today’s Open Championship at Muirfield to find out.

I was and couldn’t believe his generosity and thoughtfulness.

The four-time major champion had just birdied the hole to move to 3 under and was on his way to the 16th tee. That’s when he spotted a small boy -- 9-year-old Ross Brown -- in the crowd with a cast on his left arm.

Mickelson checked his pace and handed the ball to the little boy, saying a few words to him as he did so. The smile on the little boy’s face told you the left-hander had gained a fan for life.

Players giving balls away is pretty regular. Ian Poulter usually hands balls to fans after he’s made a bogey. His take is that the ball brought him a bit of bad luck so you might as well make someone happy. “Besides, I get them for free now so I can afford to give them away,” Poulter said.

That’s in regular tour events, though. Mickelson is chasing his first Open Championship. He’s also trying to do it on a course that is fast and fiery and requires a lot of concentration. You’d have thought he’d have had his mind totally focused on the next hole. Yet there he was going out of his way to make a small boy’s day even better.

It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed Mickelson’s generosity. I once interviewed him in Ireland. When I finished with him I heard him say to wife Amy that he was just going to sign some autographs. I wandered back to the media center to transcribe the interview. When I returned to the 18th green 45 minutes later, Mickelson was still signing.

The amount he gives back to the game makes him a class act. Just ask a little Scottish boy with a broken left arm, or thousands of kids around the world who have his autograph.

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