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Icing on Lefty's Cake

April 19, 2004
April 19, 2004

Table of Contents
April 19, 2004

Golf

Icing on Lefty's Cake

It was the skinny hours of Monday morning in Augusta, and Phil
Mickelson was sporting his favorite new look: black sweats, black
T-shirt, white socks, Arizona Diamondbacks hat and a new green
jacket. "I don't mean to be disrespectful," he said in his Wally
Cleaver way, "but I just can't take it off!"

This is an article from the April 19, 2004 issue Original Layout

A waning bottle of champagne stood on the chairside table while
Mickelson himself was on the tube, having the greatest golf day
of his life over and over. Ten, 20, 30 times during the night the
toast would go up in the rented house, and it was always the
same: Someone would raise a glass and say with heartfelt emotion,
"Heeeyaaawhoooooo!"

To which Mickelson, his family and friends would raise glasses
and answer, regally, "Heeeyaaawhoooooo!"

Well, hell, if it were you, wouldn't you do the same?

If it had taken you 47 tries to win a major, if the monkey had
been not just on your back but in your shaving mirror every
morning and in every golf writer's laptop at each major for 13
years, wouldn't you go a little berserko when it finally buggered
off?

If it were you, and a little more than a year ago your tiny wife,
Amy, had torn an artery during childbirth and had nearly died,
and your newborn son, Evan, had gone seven minutes without a
breath, and everybody was now healthy, wouldn't you party like it
was 2099, too?

This was a man coming off his worst year as a pro: For the first
time since 1999, he didn't win a tournament. This was a man for
whom the press kept howling, Taxi for Mr. Mickelson!

But this Masters was Mickelson's moment. After the doctors had
finally pronounced everybody fine, this was what he focused his
will upon: rededicating himself to greatness.

Whereas Tiger Woods got rid of his one coach, Mickelson employed
two--Rick Smith for swing and Dave Pelz for short game. He took
up Krav Maga, a martial art. He lost 15 pounds. He started
arriving at tournaments an extra hour and a half early. He
decided to explore a new area of golf, heretofore unknown to him:
the fairway.

In fact, on Saturday, after Mickelson had spent the day hitting
all but four fairways, shooting 69 to take a share of the lead,
Amy greeted him with, "Honey, I miss you lately. You never hit it
over by the ropes anymore."

And so here came another Scary Sunday, the hardest day of the
week for any Mickelson Maniac. What made anybody think it would
end any more happily than his last seven quiet rides home from
close calls at majors: four thirds at Masters, two seconds at
U.S. Opens, a second at the PGA?

This feeling is what. Amy said she could "sense it in the air."
After breakfast, as he was kissing her goodbye, he said something
he'd never said on a major Sunday: "It just feels different this
time, you know?"

It sure didn't start out different. It was the usual Sunday
Dramamine ride on the front nine, a two-over 38. But he clawed
back with a swashbuckling birdie at the sucker pin on 12, a
kick-in at 14 for another, a pulse-stopping 15-footer on 16.

In Arizona, Jennifer Mackay, the wife of Bones Mackay,
Mickelson's caddie, lay on a raft in their backyard pool,
pregnant and about to bust. In Bones's pocket was a beeper, in
case she went into labor.

"She's been living on that raft," Bones said on Saturday night.
"The doctors said the weightlessness makes the baby not want to
come out." But would he go home if beeped now? "Yeah," he said,
"but I don't think she would call."

By 18, she hadn't. And now Mickelson needed an 18-footer to beat
no less than Ernie Els and win the green jacket.

I have heard roars for Jack Nicklaus and roars for Tiger Woods,
but the roar for Mickelson's sun-shy Titleist on Sunday was the
lustiest, from-the-gutsiest, voice-box-bustingest bellow I've
ever heard at a Masters. Golf is in awe of Tiger, but it's in
love with Phil.

What followed was the most raucous winner's dinner in Augusta
National history. Kids crawling all over Butler Cabin while Daddy
got ready. Mickelson's irrepressible sister, Tina, high-fiving
club chairman Hootie Johnson later in the dining hall. Toasts and
whoops and members' proper Southern wives sidling up to Amy and
whispering, "Child, this is the most fun we've ever had at one of
these!" President Bush calling Mickelson, telling him to forget a
second career in basketball. "I saw you try to jump on 18," Bush
said. Mickelson with a grin so wide you needed a fish-eye lens.

Life's crazy, no? Woods has never played worse, yet since he
became engaged has said he's never been happier. Maybe he
realizes that what he really wants is what Mickelson already has:
the great wife, the three kids, the cluttered, happy house.

Now Mickelson finally owns something Tiger has: a major. The
difference is Mickelson never needed it. He was happy and lucky
and fulfilled--whether the world of golf thought he had any right
to be or not.

And when a man achieves that kind of fulPhilment, all you can
really do is stand up and say, sincerely and succinctly,
"Heeeyaaawhoooooo!"

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER

Before winning a major, Mickelson was happy and
fulfilled--whether the world of golf thought he had a right to be
or not.