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.

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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