BETHPAGE, NY — It’s a little before noon on Friday by the time Phil Mickelson gets to the fourth hole at Bethpage Black. It’s the second round of the PGA Championship, and a swarm of fairly buzzed spectators are pressed against the ropes. They’re respectful and quiet as Mickelson tees off, but the minute his ball is in the air, fans once again start yelling. About his legs.
“Phil, nice calves!”
“Phil, I love your calves!”
“Phil, show us the calves!”
“No matter what happens, you have the calves!”
"Just pull up one pant leg!"
Mickelson’s calves went viral earlier this year when he started filming instructional videos in shorts and posting them to his Instagram. Since golfers have historically been required to wear pants at all times, few people had ever seen the bottom half of his legs. Which, it turns out, are gigantic. Seriously, Mickelson’s calves could bench press 350 while smoking a cigarette and checking their phone at the same time. His calves could beat you in a bar fight, they could help you move, they could lift up a car while you change the tire. They are the Andre the Giant of calves, and this fact has not been lost on anyone who’s laid eyes on them.
Many people were lucky enough to do so during Wednesday's practice round this week. As of this year, pros are now permitted to wear shorts while they practice before tournaments, and Mickelson has played into the growing legend about his lower legs. When the PGA announced the new rule, Mickelson tweeted, “The @PGATOUR just announced that shorts are allowed for pro-am and practice rounds. Word is they saw my Insta-structionals in shorts and felt this move needed to happen. Well played, Sir. Well played!” He included an emoji of a smiley face wearing sunglasses.
After he tees off on No. 4, Mickelson walks down the fairway and the shouts about his legs follow him. In fact, they follow him everywhere at Bethpage. People aren’t just in love with his calves, they’re in love with him. He’s playing with Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, two of golf’s biggest stars, but about 90% of the cheers are for Lefty, who will finish the day one-over par, even for the tournament, and with little chance of winning the tournament. Day doesn’t get much traction with the fans at all, and most of the crowd’s comments that do involve McIlroy are negative.
“Try hitting it harder next time, Rory,” one guy says. Another goes, “Rory, you suck!” A third chimes in, “Rory, what’s it like playing with Phil?”
People love Mickelson for many reasons. I overhear one fan say to his wife, “I like Phil because we’re the same age.” Paul Palazzo, from Long Island, has adored Mickelson since college because they’re both lefties (Palazzo and his son took a picture with Mickelson on Wednesday, but sadly, Mickelson’s legs weren't visible in it). Steve Hunt from West Hartford is into Mickelson because he likes his sense of humor. On Thursday, Hunt’s buddy yelled out, “Hit bombs!” It’s a reference to a video Mickelson posted of himself before the Masters. In it, Mickelson is driving down Magnolia Lane at Augusta while declaring that his plan is to crush drives. Hunt says that yesterday, when Mickelson heard his friend, the golfer looked their way and smiled. It seemed like Phil was trying to go out of his way to acknowledge every fan who yelled his way.
“His social media is just really fun these days,” Hunt says.
Calvesmania and “hit bombs” are two examples of how the 48-year-old golfer has been endearing himself to fans online. He’s opening up to the public and showing his sillier side by posting videos like the “Phil Kwan Do” series, in which Mickelson leads workouts promising—and this is a direct quote—“calves like Adonis.” For a man who’s been embroiled in his fair share of controversy, connecting directly with fans has been a way to project the image of a fun-loving, down-to-clown dad who just wants to get out there and... hit bombs.
After Mickelson hits the green from the fairway on No. 5, shouts of, “I love you, Phil!,” and “Here we go, Phil!,” and “Let’s go Sun Devils!,” (Mickelson went to Arizona State) once again rise up from behind the ropes, along with lots of cigar smoke. Mickelson gives a lot of thumbs up and points to the crowd as fans cry out to him. The man can’t help but smile, even though it’s unclear if he actually loves how fixated people have become on his legs—although, with his numerous calves-centric videos, he’s certainly invited the obsessed.
“A lot of guys [are] showing me their calves,” Mickelson said on Thursday after his first round. “I don't know how I feel about that. It's a little awkward. But it was interesting.”
The police officer assigned to Mickelson for the week has been here for all of it. He says that he was particularly impressed by one fan who, during a practice round, called Mickelson “Calves-zilla.”
“It’s been all day, every day,” he says, shaking his head. He goes quiet while Mickelson sinks his putt. Then the officer adds, “But I mean, he does have incredible calves.”