Mick­el­son, still peo­ple’s cham­pion, has an­other tro­phy in his sights

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Paul New­berry

ST. AN­DREWS, Scot­land — Phil Mick­el­son rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the fi­nal hole of prac­tice — oh, how he’d love to be in that same po­si­tion for a win at the Bri­tish Open come Sun­day — then headed off to take care of his other du­ties.

“Give me about 10 or 15 min­utes,” the peo­ple’s cham­pion shouted to­ward the fans clam­or­ing for his au­to­graph. “I’ll be right over there, be­hind the stands, to sign for you.”

Af­ter col­lect­ing his valu­ables and tak­ing a brief respite in the St. An­drews club­house, Mick­el­son popped out on cue be­hind a bar­rier along Golf Place.

He worked up and down the line, look­ing ev­ery­one in the eye as he signed. He ban­tered with the crowd. He put his sig­na­ture on ev­ery­thing from vi­sors to pro­grams to flags. Tiger Woods wouldn’t be caught dead do­ing this.

The only time Mick­el­son balked was when some­one put

‘I ex­pect to play well here, I re­ally do. I ex­pect to be in con­tention.’

phil mick­el­son, who was won four ma­jor cham­pi­onships, but never the Bri­tish Open

Con­tin­ued from C1 for­ward a ball to sign — a no-no for Lefty, who, like many ath­letes, knows that sort of keep­sake will usu­ally make its way straight to eBay.

“No balls. I don’t sign balls,” Mick­el­son said po­litely. “Any­thing else I can get for you?”

Some may be­lieve this is all an act. Some may be­lieve that Mick­el­son sets aside am­ple time for sign­ing at ev­ery tour­na­ment merely to im­prove his im­age, not be­cause he feels any gen­uine con­nec­tion with the fans.

Just try telling that to those peo­ple who walked away with an au­to­graph and a sense that he re­ally cares about them. Just lis­ten to the roars if Mick­el­son walks to­ward the 18th green with a chance to claim the claret jug and add a fifth ma­jor ti­tle to an al­ready im­pres­sive ré­sumé.

“Did you get Phil?” a Bri­tish woman shouted to her son, who’d snared a prime spot at the front of rail­ing. “Yes, I got him,” he replied. “Oh­hhh, bril­liant,” she said, break­ing into a re­lieved grin.

Mick­el­son said he feels a “spir­i­tual” con­nec­tion with St. An­drews, the birthplace of golf and a course that he feels gives him a real shot at win­ning his first Bri­tish Open ti­tle, with its wide-open spa­ces that al­low one to pull out the driver all around the course.

In­deed, there’s noth­ing he loves bet­ter than just grip­ping and rip­ping, even if it means throw­ing cau­tion to that per­sis­tent wind sweep­ing in off St. An­drews Bay.

“I ex­pect to play well here, I re­ally do,” Mick­el­son said Tues­day. “I ex­pect to be in con­tention.”

The chance to share tri­umphs with his fans Phil Mick­el­son blasts out of a bunker dur­ing a prac­tice round at St. An­drews on Tues­day. Mick­el­son would dearly love to add a Claret Jug to his three Masters ti­tles and a PGA Cham­pi­onship vic­tory. — and, yes, even the foibles — are just as im­por­tant, he added, even if some in the me­dia and maybe even a fel­low golfer or two might be skep­ti­cal of his mo­tives.

“I’ve been very for­tu­nate to have sup­port from fans,” Mick­el­son said. “It’s made it fun to go to the golf course, and it’s made it fun to in­ter­act with peo­ple, and it’s made it fun to spend time af­ter rounds sign­ing au­to­graphs and in­ter­act­ing.

“That in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ship that golf pro­vides — the kind many other sports don’t, be­ing in a sta­dium set­ting — is re­ally one of our great­est as­sets in this sport. The abil­ity to play pro-ams and in­ter­act with reg­u­lar am­a­teur golfers. The abil­ity to have per­sonal con­tact with fans af­ter the round or be­fore­hand. All that re­ally makes the game of golf great.”

Of course, great­ness in­side the ropes is de­fined by ma­jor ti­tles. For Mick­el­son, who has cap­tured three green jack­ets at Au­gusta along with a PGA Cham­pi­onship, there would be no bet­ter place to win an­other than this place.

“A ca­reer just doesn’t feel com­plete un­less you’ve won here at St. An­drews,” Mick­el­son said. “I think all the play­ers feel the same way.”

Jon Su­per

Tim Hales

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