‘I saw a different Phil’: What Phil Mickelson’s mother noted watching her two sons make history

phil mickelson tim mickelson

The Mickelson brothers on Sunday at Kiawah Island.

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As Mary Mickelson sat at home in California watching her boys at Kiawah, she noticed something in Phil she’d never seen before.

Late Sunday night, Tim Mickelson had a message for his parents from 30,000 feet. He and his older brother, Phil, and Phil’s agent, Steve Loy, were in the air, flying home to greater San Diego in a private plane from greater Kiawah Island, with a stop along the way, to drop off Loy in Scottsdale, Ariz. It would be close to 2 a.m. before they would arrive at tiny McLellan-Palomar Airport, near Carlsbad.

Don’t come. It’ll be way too late.

They came.

Mary and Phil Mickelson Sr. packed blankets on a cool southern California night, left their Brady Bunch­-neighborhood home in which they raised their three golf-loving children — Tina (a golf instructor, and more!), Phil (a touring pro, and more!) and Tim (Phil’s caddie, and more!) — and arrived at the airport at 1 a.m. Phil Sr. is a retired Navy and commercial pilot. Pilots like early.

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The plane landed at about 1:15 a.m. The parents had talked their way on to the tarmac to greet the plane and its precious cargo. Family hugs, all the way around. A five-minute reunion.

“You don’t want them to come off the plane and there’s nobody there,” Mary Mickelson said in a recent phone interview. She and her husband have made similar trips many times over the past 30 years, after wins and near-wins and on other occasions. But this one was different. For the first time, Philip (per Mary) and Tim had won a major together, the 2021 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, flat and windy and sunbaked through the tournament. Over its four days, Mickelson shot 70, 69, 70 and 73, good for a two-shot win. He got himself quite a sunburn, too.

Penta Love knows the Mickelson parents, and she knows this whole theme, too, the playing son and his caddying brother, competing in all the big events, winning a PGA title. Mrs. Love has two children. Her eldest, Davis, won the 1997 PGA Championship with Davis’ kid brother, Mark, caddying for him. Davis, like Phil, was named for his golf-obsessed father, too.

Mary and Phil Sr. have seen Penta, and the various parents of your other favorite brand-name pros, at scores of tournaments and team matches over the years. But they watched this year’s PGA Championship from home. It was just the two of them in their tidy home with a small backyard dominated by a putting green. On that Sunday, the phone (a landline) was ringing, as people of a certain age still say, off the hook. Finally, Mary moved the phone to another room and let the answering machine take messages. 

Mary Mickelson covers her eyes during the 1994 Mercedes Championship.

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“It’s great to hear from people you haven’t heard from in years, but you don’t know if it’s going to be a minute or something long and you don’t want to miss a shot or what they’re saying on TV,” Mrs. Mickelson said.

While Phil played and Tim caddied, Tina and mother texted back and forth.

One text, from mother to daughter:

“Tina, text Philip and tell him just to par in. Don’t hit bombs or activate calves. Just pars. They will have to catch him. He won’t listen to his mother.”

They were having a good time.

They were excited and nervous.

Mary is a native San Diegan, an accomplished basketball player and a big personality. Phil Sr. is quiet and slender and he doesn’t have a bragging bone in his body. Phil Jr. takes after — take a wild guess!

Mrs. Mickelson’s father was a commercial tuna fisherman, strong as an ox and still on the high seas (though starting to reel things in) at age 50, the age Phil Jr. is now.

Al and Jennie’s (Phil’s grandparents) 60th wedding anniversary was a family affair, with Phil, Amy and their newborn, mom Mary, Phil Sr., and Mickelson sibs Tina and Tim.

Courtesy Mickelson Family

Mary sees a lot of her father in her middle child. The drive, the gift for numbers and retaining information, the high standards, the physical robustness. Their walk. She could see that part, the walk, with particular clarity on Sunday, at Kiawah. Her father’s purposeful ambling, gate, toes out, but at Kiawah, Mary felt, a little slower than usual.

She saw some other things in Phil, Sunday at Kiawah and through the tournament, that she hadn’t before.

“I saw a different Phil,” she said. “He seemed to be enjoying it more. He was taking his time, especially when he stood behind the ball before playing the shot. He seemed more focused, like he was blocking out everything except what he was doing. His breathing was slower. He was playing smart, aggressive golf, but not overly aggressive.

“Tim was more involved. There was one moment where Tim said something and he just gently put his hand on Phil’s back. Maybe that’s something that only a mother would observe, but that’s what I saw.”

When Phil came off the plane, after all his cross-country wine-sipping and tweeting, Mary said he was a bundle of energy. The next morning, if there was a morning for him, he was exhausted. Mickelson once said, years ago, that majors are so intense for him he spends the week after them in bed. This year, he didn’t have the week off. Three days after arriving in San Diego, he was playing in the first round of the Colonial tournament in Fort Worth.

Mrs. Mickelson said she and her husband hope to go the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, a short drive from their home, “if we are able to get tickets.” Her understanding is that each player will get four tickets per day. It’s a busy time, with Phil’s birthday on June 16, the Wednesday of the U.S. Open, and Father’s Day on Sunday. She hopes to have a family dinner sometime before the tournament, for her children and their spouses and the cousins and the grandchildren. She’ll serve one of Phil’s favorite dishes, a family-favorite called fried spaghetti (with eggs). Mrs. Mickelson will make her strawberry cake, too, in which she drills holes into the cake, shoots marinated strawberries and strawberry juice into them, the whole thing covered in Cool Whip. Yes, she often finds herself serving seconds.

But not to her Philip, not these days, in all his slimness.

“The last time I served it, he was like, ‘Don’t even bring it near me. I can’t eat that,’” Mary said. “He walked into another room.”

The sacrifices these athletes make in the name of sustained greatness. Phil’s been at it for 30 years.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com.

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Michael Bamberger

Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.