Mickelson shares moment with family, fans
SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- When the ball finally fell into the 18th cup, when the crowd finally stopped roaring and the camera shutters stopped clicking, Phil Mickelson had a phone call.
It was the former President George Bush.
Thirty-seven minutes after winning the 87th PGA Championship, thirty-seven minutes after furthering his legacy as one of golf's modern-day greats by completing the first half of the career Grand Slam, Lefty stood on Baltusrol's 18th green and took 15 seconds to speak to "President 41."
"Thank you, sir," he said into the line. "Thank you very much. I appreciate you taking the time to call."
His face still flush from the drama of the morning, his smile still frozen, Mickelson hung up the phone and shook his head in disbelief. This was the culmination of a stress-packed week in which everyone waited for Mickelson to lose the championship and yet in the end it didn't happen.
Instead, on the last shot of the last hole, New Jersey's newest adopted son wrote the latest smile-filled chapter in golf history. A moment the fans had yelled for and Mickelson had wished for, finally came true.
It couldn't have been more perfect.
The former president on the telephone. His blonde wife in his arms. His two adorably dressed daughters by his side and his 2-year-old son Evan running around the 18th green like it was his own personal Disneyland.
"He's always like that," Mickelson said. "He just has endless energy."
This was the coronation. The validation. The credit to all the hard work, the unflappable nerves and a lifelong love for the game of golf. Mickelson was a kid who dreamed of days like these, who went to sleep each night not with a teddy bear, but a golf club. As a 2-year-old, he insisted on swinging a golf club left-handed to mirror his right-handed father. Phil Sr. spoke Monday of a picture he has of Phil as a little boy on a pony ride.
"And he's holding a golf club," the elder Mickelson said.
So it was only fitting that the championship came down to a pitch on 18, with Mickelson's ball buried deep in can't-see-your-shoes length rough. It was the same type of shot, the ball sitting in the same type of grass, that Mickelson had practiced thousands of times before on a hole Dad had built in their California backyard.
"We had some pretty thick rough in our backyard and that's exactly what I was thinking," Mickelson said. "It was no different from what I had done in my backyard since I was a kid. I just reminded myself to be aggressive."
And it was only fitting that when Mickelson came up 18, he took a second to tap his 4-wood on a plaque commemorating the triumphs of Jack Nicklaus.
"Just some good karma," he said.
It was only fitting that he took 14 hours away from his family two weeks ago to come to Baltusrol and learn about the layout from head pro Doug Steffen. Steffen showed Mickelson the nuances of the greens, the hidden ridges in the fairways and it paid off. Mickelson said he wouldn't have birdied the par-3 fourth on Sunday without those lessons.
Lessons that, in the end, may have been the difference between winning and losing.
"We won by one shot this week," caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay said. "You have to think that at some point, all that work had to have something to do with it."
When it was all over, when the championship was finally his, Mickelson turned the charm to Wayne Newton-like levels. The man who always seems to push the right PR buttons at the exact moment, reserved his first words to thank the New Jersey fans.
"For being who you are," he said to a roar.
When that came to an end, it was time for wedding pictures. But Mickelson's bride wasn't a beautiful woman, it was the Wanamaker Trophy.
Mickelson walked above, below, over and around the 18th green, posing for an endless army of photographers. Phil and the trophy. Phil, his wife Amy and the trophy. Phil, Amy and the kids and the trophy. Phil, Bones and the trophy. Phil, PGA officials and the trophy. Phil and a handicapped 12-year-old boy and the trophy.
"Let's get some group shots with my family," Mickelson said.
Fine. Phil, Mom, Dad and the trophy. Phil, just Dad and the trophy. Phil, his coach Rick Smith and the trophy.
After the pictures, a receiving line. With seven New Jersey state troopers surrounding Mickelson, he wound his way through a sea of fans, giving high-fives and fist-bumps to everyone he could reach.
Earlier this week, when Vijay Singh described himself as "not fake like a lot of guys are," some wondered if it was in reference to Mickelson. The boyish dimples, the never-ending smile, always saying the right thing, doing the right thing. It often doesn't seem real.
But if Mickelson is indeed a phony, he goes a long way to do it. While he was speaking to reporters inside the Media Center on Monday, golf course security cleared out a few hundred fans hoping for an autograph. As the interviews came to an end and Mickelson left the tent, he saw the fans waiting in the opposite direction, behind a green metal barrier, some 50 yards away.
So he walked over and signed for them. Hats, flags, tickets, pictures, everything you could imagine. Less than two hours after one of the biggest moments of his professional career, with his wife, his kids and the rest of his family waiting to fly home to California, Mickelson took a black Sharpie marker and scribbled his name to everyone he could reach.
"We got word he was headed out of here," one state trooper said. "And then he just went the other way to start signing autographs. Quite a guy."
He only stopped, 26 minutes later, when Amy came out of the media center encouraging him to move on. From there it was another interview, another commitment. But finally, just after 2 p.m. ET, the day came to an end. With the flagstick from the 18th green tucked in back, Mickelson drove his gold Ford Expedition out of Baltusrol's front gate, waving and smiling the entire way.
No one could blame him.
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com
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