Born to be a golfer. That seems to be the best way to describe Phil Mickelson. After all, at age one-and-a-half he was already swinging a homemade cut-down club, mirroring his father in their modest San Diego backyard. At age three tried, he to run away from home because his parents didn't think he was old enough to join his father for a weekend golf game at the local public course.
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Approaching the final green of his first round of golf at age four, he was crying not because the green was located high on a hill and would be a difficult walk, but because he knew that the 18th hole meant the round was over. That same spirit of not wanting the game to end led him to a phenomenal junior career that saw Mickelson capture 34 San Diego County titles, followed by an amateur career highlighted by three NCAA Championships, a U.S. Amateur title and a win on the PGA TOUR's Northern Telecom Open as a collegian.
Mickelson continues his success on fairways and greens as a professional becoming one of only four players to win more than a dozen times in the 1990's. Other than 1999, the year his daughter was born, Mickelson has captured at least one victory on the PGA TOUR in every full season as a professional.
What separates Mickelson from his peers is there truly is more to this young man than his smooth swing, silky putting stroke, booming drives off the tee and creativity around the greens. He represents a link to the past, a link to the greats who have made the game what it is today. Jones. Hagen. Sarazen. Nelson. Hogan. Snead. Palmer. Nicklaus. Watson. There are many players who have come along since Watson that have displayed tremendous skill and accomplishment on the course, adding their names to the record books. Of these, few, if any, have matched the off-course respect from his peers and business community and personal respect for the game more than Phil Mickelson.
Entering his 30's, Mickelson has grown from the All-American boy into a well-rounded role model and family man. The birth of his daughter, Amanda Brynn, the day after his runner-up finish at the 1999 U.S. Open has brought new perspective to Mickelson's life. Winning continues to be the priority on the course and a hunger still remains for making his imprint on golf history, but being a winner off the course is just as important.
Perhaps nobody in the game dedicates more time to the fans than Mickelson. Ask any tournament official, TOUR player or media member who spends more time signing autographs following practice and tournament rounds and "Phil Mickelson" will be a name heard often. He recognizes the importance of paying attention to his supporters and those who support the game by coming out to watch the pros play. Mickelson never underestimates the value of eye contact and a smiling acknowledgement of a fan's greeting.
Golf is game for gentlemen, and Phil is truly a gentleman. Unlike any other sport, respect for the game, its history, its rules, its heritage is paramount. There are no hot shot rookies disrespecting the players that paved the way for them because dollar signs have clouded their own image of themselves. There are no guaranteed "salaries" which pay regardless of performance on the playing field. If you want to "earn" money on the PGA TOUR, you've got to perform week in and week out against the best in the world. There are no "off" weeks against inferior opponents. If you want to be mentioned in the same breath as the icons of your sport, you have to understand the things that made them great. Things that go beyond victories, accolades and press clippings.
Phil Mickelson understands. He has made it his mission to carry on the legacy set forth by the landmark players before him. Times have changed and golf has become more popular than ever. But to Phil, as with every true competitor and champion, winning is the ultimate measuring stick. But winning with class, humility, integrity and a true respect for one's place in history is what moves one from greatness to legendary.
Born to be a golfer? Certainly. More than just a golfer? Absolutely. Phil Mickelson is a marquee player on the course, marquee spokesperson and role model off the course and marquee father at home. He is a young man with his priorities in order and a commitment to fill the shoes that have left such important footprints before him.
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