Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The People's Champion

I had a chance to witness, first-hand for the first time, a Phil Mickelson autograph session at Whistling Straits yesterday.  One of the greatest golfers of all time spent at least half an hour signing flags, hats, programs, tickets and golf balls for hundreds of fans that crowded along the barricades around the practice putting green. 

Phil had already put in a long day--two range sessions, some short game work, putting practice and nine holes on the Straits course (all interrupted by intermittent thundershowers-- and I noticed that he was in street shoes while signing for the fans, so he was likely on the way to his courtesy car and back to whatever house he is renting for the week.  Yet, Phil had plenty of time to give to his fans at the start of a long, pressure-packed week.

Some people believe that Phil Mickelson is a phony.  Nobody is that happy to hear compliments or well-wishes from fans.  Nobody "wants" to sign that many autographs.  Nobody gives serious thought to the repetitive questions from every member of the media every tournament.  But if Phil is a "phony"--he sure puts a lot of work into keeping up his persona.

After 20-years on Tour, Phil could easily do just 15-minutes of autographs after a round and still be way ahead of most other pros.  Or he could be a "I only sign on Mondays" type of guy.  But you can bet that Phil will be along the barricades after all of his practice and competitive rounds for as long as he can all week at the Straits.

And all of that effort has built up more goodwill from fans than Phil could ever possibly use.  To be honest, with his talent, Mickelson should have 8 or 9 or 10 major championships--instead of his current total of five--and at least a few years as the number one ranked player in the world (which he has never attained).  But when the conversation comes around to "overrated" players or "underachievers", Phil is hardly ever mentioned.  That's because the fans remember all of the good things that he has done--and tend to forget the gaffes, the blown chances and the missed short putts.

The good news is that Phil is teaching his fan-friendly ways to younger players on the Tour as well.  Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth sign a lot (not quite as much as Phil) and they aren't afraid to take selfies with fans as well.  And I can tell you that young ladies who may not be that "into golf" were going nuts for those two guys yesterday.  I'd like to hope that more "phony" golfers like Phil Mickelson will help keep the sport popular even after a certain 14-time major champion who acts like the spectators don't even exist (unless he needs them to move a big rock out from in front of his ball) leaves the game for good.

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