Italian American Golfers: Part 4
Italian Americans in Golf: Part 4 – Lefty
Phil Mickelson was born in San Diego, California, to parents, Philip Mickelson, an airline pilot and former naval aviator and Mary Mickelson (née Santos), whose father came to the U.S. from Sicily and caddied at Pebble Beach.
Phil Mickelson picked up a golf club when he was only 18 months old, mirroring his father’s swing so well that even though he was right handed at everything else, he developed a mighty left handed swing, in the process, picking up the nickname “Lefty,” Although in college, his nickname was “The Roman.” He graduated college in 1982 and made his PGA debut at the U.S. Open. Since then, Phil has achieved 42 PGA wins, earning him a much deserved spot as number 9 on the all-time win list. Mickelson won the Masters three times, 2004, 2006 and 2010. He won the PGA Championship in 2005 and the 2013 Open Championship, making him only a U.S. Open win away from completing golf’s grand slam of winning all four major tournaments.
He won many PGA Tour tournaments during his first decade in professional golf, including the Byron Nelson Golf Classic and the World Series of Golf in 1996, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 1998, the Colonial National Invitation in 2000 and the Greater Hartford Open in 2001 and again in 2002.
Mickelson’s first major championship win came in his thirteenth year on the PGA Tour, when he secured victory in the 2004 Masters with an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole. He swears to this day that he missed his aiming point and that his grandfather straighten the putt out.
The following year, Mickelson captured his second major at the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol. On the 18th hole, Mickelson hit one of his trademark soft pitches from deep greenside rough to within a foot and a half of the cup and made his birdie to finish 4-under-par. Mickelson captured his third major title the following spring at the 2006 Masters Tournament. Phil won his second green jacket after shooting a 3-under-par final round, winning by two strokes.
After winning two majors in a row heading into the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Mickelson was bidding to join Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods as the only players to win three consecutive majors. He was the joint-leader going into the final round, but his finish of the round was the stuff of nightmares. He bogeyed the 16th hole. On the 17th hole, with the lead at +4, he missed the fairway to the left and his drive finished inside a garbage can, from which he was granted a free drop; he parred the hole. He had a one-shot lead and was in the last group going into the final hole.
Needing a par on the 18th hole for a one-shot victory, Mickelson continued with his aggressive style of play and chose to hit a driver off the tee; he hit his shot well left of the fairway. The ball bounced off a corporate hospitality tent and settled in an area of trampled-down grass that was enclosed with trees. He decided to go for the green with his second shot, rather than play it safe and pitch out into the fairway. His ball then hit a tree and did not advance more than 50 yards. His next shot plugged into the left greenside bunker. He was unable to get up and down from there, resulting in a double bogey, which cost him a chance of winning the championship.
In 2008, Mickelson won the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial with a −14. On the final hole, after an absolutely horrendous tee shot, he was in thick rough with trees in his way. Many players would have punched out and taken their chances at making par from the fairway with a good wedge shot. Instead, he pulled out a high-lofted wedge and hit his approach shot over a tree, landing on the green where he one-putted for the win.
Mickelson won his first 2009 tour event at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club. The victory was Mickelson’s 35th win on tour. A month later, he won his 36th title on the tour and his first World Golf Championship at the 2009 WGC-CA Championship, with a one- stroke win.
2009 was a particularly difficult year. On May 20, 2009, it was announced that Mickelson’s wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer and he announced that he would suspend his PGA Tour schedule indefinitely. She would begin treatment with major surgery as early as the following two weeks. During the final round of the BMW PGA Championship, fellow golfer and family friend John Daly wore bright pink trousers in support of Mickelson’s wife. The following Saturday, at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, a “Pink Out” event was hosted and the PGA Tour players all wore pink that day to support the Mickelson family. On May 31, Phil announced that he would return to play on the PGA Tour in June at the St. Jude Classic and the U.S. Open. Mickelson shot a final round 70 and recorded his fifth runner-up finish at the U.S. Open. He shared the lead after an eagle at the 13th hole, but fell back with bogeys on 15 and 17. On July 6, 2009, it was announced that his mother, Mary Mickelson, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After hearing the news, Mickelson took another leave of absence from the tour.
On April 11, 2010, Mickelson won the 2010 Masters Tournament with a 16-under-par performance, giving him a three-stroke win. The win marked the third Masters victory for Mickelson and his fourth major championship overall. His third round play was brilliant. Trailing the lead by five strokes as he prepared his approach shot to the 13th green, he proceeded to make eagles on the 13th and 14th holes. He birdied 15, having missed an eagle by inches.
Mickelson finished tied for third at the 2012 Masters Tournament, but received widespread praise for his respect for the game. He made sure to be present to watch Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player hit the ceremonial opening tee-shots. This took place fully seven hours before Mickelson’s own tee time.
At the 2013 U.S. Open, Mickelson entered the final round leading by one stroke, had a very good game on Sunday and finished tied for second. This was sixth time that Phil finished second in the Open. It was a tough one for him. Not only was it Father’s Day, it also happened to be his birthday.
The week before the 2013 Open Championship, Mickelson warmed up by winning his first tournament on British soil at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. The following week, Mickelson won his fifth major title on July 21 – the British Open at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland. This was the first time in history that anyone had won the Scottish Open and The Open Championship in the same year.