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Why I changed my mind about Phil

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - News - With Max Adler

Phil Mick­el­son up-close and un­cen­sored.

The play­ers who are close to him say they’ve never seen his wrong side. Not once.

The PGA Tour ar­ranges our lock­ers in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der. Week in and week out, you’re chang­ing your shoes and un­pack­ing your bags next to the same hand­ful of guys. My best friends are mostly my peers, guys who were rook­ies when I was a rookie, but in­evitably I’ve be­come chummy with the fel­las whose last names start with let­ters close to mine. With one no­table ex­cep­tion: Phil Mick­el­son and I aren’t friends. Out­side the two rounds we’ve played to­gether, we haven’t spo­ken two words to one an­other.

The first time Phil and I were paired, it was pretty late on a Sun­day.We were both in the hunt.The con­di­tions were tough, windy, and Phil was all smiles on the first tee.As he shakes my hand he says in that su­per-duper-friendly voice, “Okay, hey, how’s it go­ing? Let’s have a good day.All right.”

The en­tire round Phil talked about him­self. Sto­ries from tour­na­ments he’d played in, trips he’d taken with his fam­ily, ran­dom facts he’d re­cently read about ob­scure top­ics. Not once did he ask if I had a fam­ily, or where I lived, or what tour­na­ment I was play­ing next. How­ever, Phil’s cad­die, Jim Mackay, hap­pens to be one of the most per­son­able guys out here. Bones talks like he gen­uinely wants to get to know you. It’s like he picks up the slack for Phil.

Truth is, I wasn’t much of a con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist that day, ei­ther, be­cause I was grind­ing hard. I didn’t win the tour­na­ment, but I did beat Phil by a shot.

The sec­ond time I played with Phil was two years later. Same deal. If he wasn’t telling us some in­cred­i­ble story or his plan to solve the world’s oil cri­sis, he was walk­ing down the fair­way like the mayor, giv­ing the crowd a thumbs up ev­ery hole and prac­ti­cally kiss­ing ba­bies as part of his pre-shot rou­tine.

I forget what I shot, but Phil went low and cut me by quite a few. In the scor­ing trailer, I’m check­ing my card when I feel this bump in my ribs. I look over, and it’s Phil nudg­ing me.With a big grin, he says,“I guess that makes us even now.”

He re­mem­bered that I’d beaten him.The dude’s played over 2 000 rounds out here. I’m not ex­actly an A-lis­ter, so that sur­prised me. Pretty cool mo­ment.

Phil definitely rubs some play­ers the wrong way, and I used to be in this camp. But my opin­ion has changed. I think any ill will to­wards him is sim­ply rooted in jeal­ousy. Some play­ers just don’t want to be­lieve any­one could be that tal­ented, good-look­ing, rich and po­lite, with a beau­ti­ful wife and three great kids. He’s prob­a­bly sac­ri­ficed some time hav­ing locker-room ca­ma­raderie with the boys in favour of build­ing his brand. The play­ers who are close to him say they’ve never seen his wrong side. Not once. Never snapped at a vol­un­teer, never stiffed a waiter, never been small in any of the ways most hu­mans are now and again. I think ev­ery day he and Amy work hard at do­ing the right thing, whether the cam­eras are rolling or not. It’s a con­scious choice.

If a per­son makes an ef­fort to smile when he’s not feel­ing happy, does that make him a phony? I don’t think so. Con­stantly making the ef­fort to be the per­son he is, sign­ing au­to­graphs un­til dusk, al­ways carv­ing time to speak with spon­sors and giv­ing it his full at­ten­tion – that’s why Phil earns ev­ery dol­lar of the $50 mil­lion or so spon­sors pay him each year.

Phil likes play­ing the role of men­tor, so that’s why you’ll see him play­ing prac­tice rounds with guys like Rickie Fowler and Kee­gan Bradley. I’ve been on tour over a decade, and so he prob­a­bly doesn’t have much time for a guy like me. I get it.

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