Monday Finish: What you didn’t see on TV from Phil Mickelson’s PGA win
Welcome to the Monday Finish! Or maybe the Monday Phinish. This is where we’ll tally the scores for the week that was and tee you up for the week to come. This week’s edition comes from on the ground at Kiawah, wrapping up Phil Mickelson’s unforgettable win…
I split from the PGA Championship media center at just after 10 p.m. on Sunday night, my head still spinning. I always feel a certain level of inadequacy after filing a story at the conclusion of a major — I’ve inevitably fallen short of conveying the entirety of what has just happened — but this time was different. I didn’t feel like I’d processed any of what I’d just witnessed.
For better or worse, the Charlotte airport hotel was three-and-a-half hours away, which meant I had more than 200 minutes to parse through that feeling of sensory overload. Actually, let’s start there — with the senses.
I could still see the crowd rushing down from the rough on No. 18, overtaking Mickelson and his caddie. Overtaking me, too. The whole thing felt surreal; we’ve seen crowds fill in behind golfers coming down the 72nd hole, but they’re not supposed to swallow them altogether.
(Sidenote: Late-night thoughts from the road in the podcast below!)
I could feel the crush of the crowd around me as their collective charge was halted greenside. The back of the mob continued pushing forward. I could tell I wasn’t the only one quickly and unexpectedly readjusting to being in close proximity with thousands of strangers after more than a year of adjusting to the complete inverse.
I could hear the chants, the jubilant Phil! Phil! Phil! getting quicker in cadence and exploding into ovation, earning a raised thumb and wide grin from Mickelson, who’d been inscrutable nearly all week, hiding behind dark shades.
I could taste dust in the wind, which isn’t a commentary on the meaning of Sunday’s conclusion but actually the very literal consequence of fans charging downwind from the dunes, bringing that sand with them onto the fairway.
And I could smell these good people, too, the inevitable after-effects of an 87-degree day spent trekking a treeless golf course.
The frenzied crowd made sense. People are excited to be outdoors in large groups at sporting events again, and people are excited when Phil Mickelson does just about anything. Put those two together and you’ve got more than enough inertia to overcome a flimsy rope and a handful of security guards.
The fact that Mickelson had won this major championship didn’t make sense. Not if you listened to the experts on things like “current form” or “course fit” or really anything beyond the old-school idea that if a golfer has won 44 PGA Tour events, he can probably find a way to win a 45th. Under that criteria, Mickelson’s win actually added up quite logically.
A day (and a few hours’ sleep) later, I still have more questions than answers. Is there any other golfer (in the non-Woods division) whose play would have engendered such a response? What if it had been Koepka up two strutting the 18th rather than the other way around? What does this mean about Phil Mickelson the golfer and how we should think about this stage of his career?
Mickelson is widely but not universally beloved. I get that. Phil himself joked on Twitter that he’s “best taken in small doses.” But three remarkable bits from Sunday’s victory stuck with me. And even if you’re not a Phan, I’ll humbly present them for your consideration, too:
First, that Mickelson still genuinely loves playing golf. Fellow San Diegan Charley Hoffman suggested that Lefty may play more actual golf than anyone on Tour. In an era of pros chasing specific spin rates on Trackman at the range, that’s a refreshing way to operate.
“I’ve never been driven by exterior things,” he said after his win. “I’ve always been intrinsically motivated because I love to compete, I love playing the game.” I think he was telling the truth. His brother backed him up.
“He just loves golf,” Tim Mickelson said. “He loves golf.” Say no more.
Second, it’s worth appreciating the way Mickelson seems to be appreciating this championship.
“So, it’s very possible that this is the last tournament I ever win. Like, if I’m being realistic,” he said. There’s something very special in that recognition. How many athletes get to savor a win with full knowledge there might not be another one coming? How great is it to stand on the top of the mountain and try to appreciate that this genuinely might be as good as it gets? As fans of the game, we want the folks in the arena to recognize just how good they have it, and it was neat to watch that in real time.
Of course, this is Phil Mickelson, so he didn’t leave it there.
“It’s also very possible that I may have had a little bit of a breakthrough in some of my focus and maybe I go on a little bit of a run, I don’t know,” he said, twinkle in his eye.
The third bit worth appreciating actually came from Mickelson’s session with reporters after his round on Friday. He was eager to finish chatting and requested through the PGA that he take only three questions. After those three questions — and one follow-up — he started to walk off before glancing to his right, where he caught a glimpse of longtime Augusta Chronicle scribe Scott Michaux. He turned back.
“Scott,” he said. “I’m really sorry to hear about your dad.”
It was a fundamentally decent moment and a kind thing to say to Scott, whose 94-year-old father had passed away a day earlier. Mickelson had broken character for a moment and revealed something sweet underneath.
WHAT I SAW AT KIAWAH
7 things you might have missed on TV.
1. Phil got his fill of crowds.
Crowds are back at golf tournaments, which means the U-shaped tunnels surrounding wayward tee shots are back, too. Phil loves these tunnels — up to a certain point, at least.
By now you’ve already seen the mob scene that followed Mickelson home on 18. But on Saturday, it was the scrum on a punch-out right of No. 16 that stood out. Directly after impact, the sand-dune crowd suddenly closed in around him. Two security guards plus Mickelson’s brother/caddie, Tim, jumped in to secure a perimeter, but one particularly frisky fan seemed set on giving Mickelson a pat on the back. When that man touched Mickelson’s shoulder, he sprung forward like he’d been electrocuted. “Don’t touch me!” he yelped, speeding back under the safety of the ropes.
Watching golf is slow, until it suddenly isn’t. Mickelson seemed more comfortable in the crowd on Sunday, despite their massive numbers. But when another fan grabbed his shoulder, he understandably reacted. “Elbowed him in the ribs,” he wrote on Twitter later with a laughing emoji. “He backed off.”
2. Brooks had a point.
After his round, Koepka was heated in the press tent.
“It would have been cool if I didn’t have a knee injury and got dinged a few times in the knee in that crowd because no one gave a s—, personally. But if I was fine, yeah, it would have been cool.”
Some people took that as sour grapes. But he had a point. Koepka got absolutely swallowed by the crowd at 18. He and caddie Ricky Elliott got crushed along with everyone else not named Mickelson. It’s not supposed to work that way; Koepka shouldn’t have to worry about getting trampled on his way to the green. You can object to his tone (you often can with Koepka) but I’d have been upset in his position, too.
3. “Hit me, Hideki!”
The most fascinating subculture I discovered all week was down the left side of the 18th fairway. Because the hole played into the wind the first few days, golfers were tempted to aim down the left side and into the hospitality tents, from which point they’d take free relief on trampled rough.
Some of the more reckless spectators started cheering for pros to launch balls their way. What better chance to get close to the action?
4. 17 would eat your lunch.
You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Jordan Spieth aim for a greenside bunker on a par-3.
“I’m thinking we just lay it up into that left bunker. If it slices, maybe we get on the green,” he told caddie Michael Greller on Friday at the treacherous 17th. I settled behind the tee to watch several groups come through, and was reminded that these guys were playing an extremely difficult golf course. Not to mention that “safe” lay-up would leave him a downhill sand shot with water long of the hole. Yikes!
5. Jordan Spieth, polite golfer.
Nor have you lived until you’ve seen Spieth turn to the crowd of phone-wielding spectators some five feet off the back of that same tee box and make an earnest request:
“Hey guys, can you please make sure those phones are on silent?”
The fans are back.
6. The PGA has a marker, too!
The legend of Augusta marker Jeff Knox has grown and grown and grown — but did you know the PGA Championship sends out a marker with a single on the weekends, too? This week that honor belonged to local pro Matt Bova, who played with Denny McCarthy on Saturday and Brian Gay on Sunday. No word on his official score.
7. The week of the family caddie
The Brothers Mickelson stole the show, but I loved walking by the range on Saturday evening to see one final shot: a half-wedge hit by Reagan Cink, who doubles as son and caddie to his father, Stewart. The shot registered on the high-tech big-screen adjacent the range: 70 yards. Father and son strode off the range in good spirits as the day’s last light hit the ocean behind him. Not a bad life.
Three things to watch this week.
1. Match Play at Shadow Creek!
Two things that intrigue us — match play and mysterious golf courses — collide at this week’s Bank of Hope Match Play, which is where the LPGA resumes. Sixty-four players will be divided into 16 groups of four and compete in three days of round-robin matches, with the winner of each group advancing to a 16-player, single-elimination bracket for the final two days. It’s the same format the PGA Tour uses for the WGC-Match Play.
2. Match Play at Chambers Bay!
The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball is wrapping up over the next couple days at Chambers Bay, which I am contractually obligated (as a Seattle resident) to tell you is an absolutely terrific golf course.
3. Phil Mickelson.
It feels incredibly anti-climactic that Mickelson would tee it up again at this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge after winning the PGA Championship, but it’s also terrific. Golf, as ever, rolls on.