Commentary

Early exit can't cut Lefty-Colonial bond

Mickelson's standing as face of tournament stays firm despite two bad rounds

Updated: May 28, 2010, 8:30 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Through triumph and tumult, Phil Mickelson and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial have forged a symbiosis not typical between golfer and tournament, and both sides had big plans for the other this week.

"Obviously, it was never in the cards for him not to be playing on the weekend," tournament director Peter Ripa said. "Winning was on his mind. But the support and the sincere appreciation toward Amy and the family is still something that's certainly still on his mind. He was prepared. He had his locker full. He was ready, head to toe."

By now, Mickelson is probably home in San Diego with his wife (Amy was diagnosed one year ago with breast cancer) and their three children. He will unpack his pink wardrobe reserved for Saturday's Pink Out round after Friday's unexpected early exit.

His disastrous first two rounds, totaling a 4-over-par 144 under terrific conditions that bathed the leaderboard in red, conspired to knock him out before the weekend for the first time this year. It also suspended another chance at overtaking Tiger Woods as the world's No. 1 golfer.

"There was no wind, there were a ton of birdies out there and I didn't make very many of them," Mickelson said. "I just played terrible. There's no other way to say it."

Colonial officials feel terrible that the central inspiration for Saturday's Pink Out II event won't be around to participate in it. Actually, Amy -- as well as Mickelson's mother, Mary, also diagnosed with breast cancer last spring -- is the real inspiration. But Mickelson is the public face, the charismatic golfer whom fans love or love to hate. Here, they've grown to cherish him even more on the course, but especially beyond the ropes over the last three years.

As Mickelson walked down his final fairway on an exceedingly hot and frustrating day, chants of "Phil! Phil!" and "Go Phil Go!" were heard loud and clear, and as he made his way onto the green, the large crowd provided a boisterous ovation.

It only solidified the fact Mickelson is the face of this tournament. In an era when PGA Tour stops cross their fingers for the world's best to come and play -- just ask the Nelson -- Mickelson and Colonial seem like rightful partners for years to come.

"Yes. You certainly hope so," Ripa said.

Rewind to 2008. One year after Crowne Plaza took over as title sponsor of Colonial, Phil Mickelson became the company's pitchman. He did a series of humorous television ads titled, "Do you look like Phil?" that started airing about a month before Colonial.

Then Mickelson, playing Colonial after a two-year absence, won his second championship in dramatic fashion. The local marketing campaign leading up to the 2009 event literally made Mickelson the face of the tournament. Phil's face was plastered on billboards all over town.

"Obviously," Ripa said, "you've got in Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods two of the players that truly move the needle in a broader market and appeal."

With Tiger obviously having distanced himself from Colonial many years ago, Mickelson is the man.

And then last May came the diagnosis. Amy had breast cancer. Distraught, Mickelson suspended his 2009 playing schedule. He withdrew from the Nelson and then Colonial the following week.

Quick to turn despair into hope, Colonial officials rallied around their defending champion and created the Pink Out, an event held Saturday in which the golfers and fans were encouraged to wear pink in a show of support for breast cancer awareness and the Susan G. Komen foundation's fight to find a cure.

It was a smashing success. So much so that patrons flooded Colonial's phone lines throughout the year, wanting to know if they'd be doing it again.

"Last year it came at just the perfect time. It was a real low point for us and to have that type of support really means a lot," Mickelson said. "I hope that many of the hundreds of thousands of women that get diagnosed each year feel that support that a lot of people are behind them."

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson
AP Photo/LM OteroPhil Mickelson missed out on a chance to overtake Tiger Woods as the world's top golfer.

As Mickelson spoke Friday knowing he didn't have a chance to make the cut, his disappointment over missing Saturday's Pink Out seemed more palpable than missing out on the No. 1 ranking. Asked if he planned to stay for Saturday's event, Mickelson said he'd be going home to his wife to celebrate her birthday on Monday a little early.

"It's one of the coolest things that's ever been done for myself, for Amy and all of the women who've had breast cancer," Mickelson said of Pink Out. "This is a very cool, emotional support system that the Colonial membership and the tour wives and tournament director have done for everyone. Although I won't be here to partake in it, I will be wearing pink tomorrow."

And Colonial will probably be wearing pink for years to come. The idea is to make the Pink Out an annual event. Throughout Saturday's round, Crowne Plaza will donate $100 for every birdie and $500 for every eagle made. Last year's third round would have produced $35,000.

Mickelson described Amy as "doing well," although she's made it to only one event this year, Mickelson's victory at the Masters. The hope for Colonial officials is for Phil and Amy to both be wearing pink on Saturdays in Fort Worth for years to come.

"With Phil's heroic play and swashbuckling style on the golf course, people can relate to it," Ripa said. "But, then there's the father and then having to deal with a wife that perhaps at the time thinking that it was a deadly disease when you seemingly have everything in the world.

"To have him play in this event on an annual basis is enormous."

Both sides had big plans. While Mickelson lost on the golf course, Colonial, it would seem, still wins.

Jeff Caplan covers the golf for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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