How Jeopardy! reminded us again about the wild career of Phil Mickelson
The best way to summarize the life and career of Phil Mickelson — well, we’ve got a few options. One might think it’s a book, like the recent biography “Phil”, written by Alan Shipnuck, and they might be right. (It’s been my book of choice this month). A simpler version exists on Wikipedia, for which there are many authors.
An even simpler version exists elsewhere on the Internet, at j-archive.com. That’s Jeopardy! Archive, where every question-answer to every clue from every game in Jeopardy! history is logged for our viewing pleasure. And it recently added an example of just how much of a rollercoaster Phil Mickelson’s career has been.
Mickelson was first used in a clue to Jeopardy, as far as my research can tell, back on Feb. 6. 2001. The answer, of course, included Tiger Woods. Mickelson had yet to triumph in a major, while Woods had just put on the greatest display of golf we’ve ever seen. “In Nov. 2000 Phil Mickelson caught this Tiger by the tail, winning the Tour Championship PGA tournament by two strokes.”
What a way to explain his career to that point — in a clue that’s really about Tiger, but still involves a Mickelson triumph.
Two years would pass before Mickelson joined Jeopardy! again, but it happened twice in a span of 22 days. “Seen here,” the Feb. 25, 2003 clue began, “he learned to golf lefty by standing opposite his father & imitating Dad’s swing.” And then three weeks later: “Ben Crenshaw and Phil Mickelson are the only 3-time winners of this college sport’s championship tournament.” It was all a reminder about how vexing Mickelson’s career was to that point: there have been few, if any, college golfers as good as Mickelson was as an amateur. He had won everything there was to win to that point … except a major championship.
Mickelson has been involved in about 20 clues on Jeopardy! through the years. Only the Tiger, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones have been on more. Sometimes merely as an innocuous addition that has little to do with him. Like on Feb. 10, 2014, when the answer under the category “‘D’ Plus” was “Ambition, or the way Phil Mickelson starts a round.” Sarah Stevens guessed “determination” but was wrong. The correct question was “What is a drive?”
There have been plenty of clues about his accomplishments — even a tease about his 2-inch vertical which he showed off after his first major win — but the real tribute to Mickelson’s career came on the April 19, 2010 edition of the show. “This lefty finished second in the 2009 U.S. Open after a bogey on the 17th hole,” was the $400 clue under the category “Bogey men.” It’s true, Mickelson had just finished second at the 2009 U.S. Open, his fifth second-place finish in our national open, and the fourth time in eight years. Sure, he was a three-time major champion by now, but he could not escape Jeopardy pinpointing another shortcoming. Of course, Jeopardy had filmed that mid-April show months before it aired. That’s how their production schedule works, leaving plenty of contemporary context missing. Like the fact that Mickelson had just triumphed at the Masters eight days before it aired.
Mickelson is certainly among a short list of golfers who have appeared in Final Jeopardy. On Sept. 25, 2020, contestants Sameer, Julissa and Alyssa pondered this clue: “On Forbes’ 2020 list of the 100 highest-paid athletes, at age 50 this active individual sportsman is the oldest.” In hindsight it feels so easy. How many individual sportsmen are active at 50? Surely no tennis stars or individual Olympians are still competing at as a quinquagenarian. It has to be a golfer! Our contestants had no clue.
Sameer offered up “Who is Mr. Magoo?” Alyssa answered “Who is [Jaromir] Jagr?” Wrong again. Tragically, the contestant who wagered the most — Julissa — couldn’t get the surname figured out. “Who is Phil?” she said. Unfortunately, that wasn’t specific enough.
Mickelson made $46.3 million that year, according to the Forbes list, but not enough of a splash to be top of mind for Final Jeopardy. At the very least, Mickelson himself was able to poke some fun at the situation.
The final twist in Mickelson’s Jeopardy! career came just the other day. The 2022 version of Mickelson has been unlike any version of him we’d really seen before. He’s committed to LIV Golf, hasn’t played well just about anywhere (major championships included) and has remained mostly silent on social media. All of that, of course, followed his spicy comments that were released in February in the aforementioned biography by Shipnuck. Jeopardy writers wrangled that into the category “Twenty-first century best-sellers” with the clue “A 2022 biography of this LIV Golf participant made news pre-publication with its quotes from him.”
Readers of this website are well aware of it now, and contestant Sam jumped in with an accurate, quick guess. But Jeopardy! fans could be learning about a golf league they never knew existed before. In that sense, Mickelson accomplished something, we suppose. He was the first person to get “LIV Golf” mentioned on Jeopardy!.