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The Matador in FootJoys

April 15, 2002
April 15, 2002

Table of Contents
April 15, 2002

Pro Football

The Matador in FootJoys

What a loser Phil Mickelson is. The champ chump. Gagger Vance.
Yeah, so he skis double-black-diamond slopes. And is licensed to
fly jets. And cashes more sports book winners than any boiler
room full of 1-900 experts. But he has never won a major, and it
just pisses you off.

This is an article from the April 15, 2002 issue Original Layout

He may be 0 for 38 in majors, but he has finished second twice
and third three times, and even got beat by a guy who decided to
play a 227-yard par-3 in one. And he's ranked No. 2 in the world
behind possibly the greatest golfer who's ever lived, but he has
never won the Masters, and that just chaps you.

True, he's the one who signs autographs 10 minutes past forever.
He's the one with the manners of Jeeves and the charm of Bond,
the one who looks more people in the eye than an optometrist.
Once, in an all-out monsoon, he stopped the courtesy car he was
riding in with his caddie and his wife, ran out in the rain,
popped the trunk, got out his golf umbrella and gave it to a
homeless guy slumped on a corner. But he has never won the U.S.
Open, so screw him.

O.K., he's the guy who unfailingly shows up to face the nastiest
questions--all the ones about what a loser he is for beating 154
guys but not 155. He gives his unblinking answers from the heart,
even though he knows that they can and will be used against him
later. How bad do you want this Masters, Phil? "Desperately," he
answers. But does it happen? No. So we trot out "desperately"
like a mirror to remind him of how he has failed himself.

Oh, he has won golf tournaments. Won 20 times on the PGA Tour.
But none of them were the four tournaments some golf writer
dreamily referred to as the "grand slam" on a slow column day, so
he has failed all of us.

So what if he's a witch who does things to a golf ball that would
have had him burned at the stake 300 years ago? So what if he's
more fun to watch than demolition derby? So what if he had his
layup gene removed at birth, which means he's the matador in
FootJoys that golf so badly needs? He has never won the British
Open, so he's lamer than Lawrence Welk.

Yeah, the dude's cooler than a penguin's freezer. Plays baccarat
in Vegas. Slam-dunked a ball off a tramp at halftime of a Phoenix
Suns game. One time he landed a Cessna twin engine with the
instruments out. The three other people in the plane practically
chewed off their armrests while Mickelson never got a hair out of
place. But he has never won the PGA, so he's pure Alpo.

Everything about him torques you off. He has more money than
Peru. He married a Suns dancer so gorgeous she'd make a bishop
bite his hat, and they have two gorgeous kids, so after 9/11 he
just dropped everything to focus on them--and you said he must be
yellow.

He's Indiana Jones, the guy who would rather walk around the
building's ledge than take the hallway. He loves the juice, needs
the action and doesn't care what it costs him. "If I try to just
hit fairways with irons, hit the middle of greens, it's no fun,"
Mickelson says. And so, as at Bay Hill three weeks ago, he'd
rather try to punch-cut a choke-down four-iron 180 yards off
bark, under limbs and over agua than chip out, because the only
thing worse than losing is being bored.

So he tries the tightrope with no net, and sometimes his
Titleists go gurgle-gurgle, and you rip him a new one, forgetting
you had already ripped all the Paycheck Petes who go for the top
10 instead of trying to win.

You don't care that he's the only player out there who will stomp
on Tiger's tail, who has punked him four times at groin-shrinkage
time. Or that he's one of the few who doesn't suck up to Eldrick,
either: He was one of only three players who turned down Tiger's
invitation to the Williams World Challenge this year. You only
care that he isn't Tiger, and that's flat unforgivable.

That he plays golf the way he wants and lives life the way he
wants doesn't mean jack. In your book he's a wimp and a wuss
until the day he wins a Big One. And on that miraculous Sunday,
when the waste suddenly turns to the wonder, what will you say?

My man Phil!

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
"If I try to just hit fairways with irons, hit the middle of
greens," says Phil Mickelson, "it's no fun."