A Short Essay on Phil at Augusta

The Oak Tree

I know that many people hate Phil Mickelson.  I know he has done so many seemingly – and obviously – crazy things.  I understand that, but on one level I just really do not care.  Why? Because my son Jordan loved watching him play golf.  He was fascinated by Phil’s ability to create shots in certain situations – equal to or greater than even the mighty Tiger, if we are being honest with ourselves. He is a masterful artist and genius of golf on the level of Walter Hagen, Lee Trevino, Young Tom Morris, etc.  Watching him play the last nine at Augusta yesterday was a near religious experience for me – mainly because it reminded me of my son. That drowns out, for a day at least, my issues with the direction he has chosen to take his career.  Jordan was a boy and he did not know or care about things outside of what was shown on the weekly golf broadcast. He just loved golf. He wore a blue KPMG hat in almost every tournament he played for over two years.

There was a moment yesterday when I thought Phil might win The Masters, at the astonishing age of 52. It came on the last tee.  Jordan Spieth had birdied the 17th and was a stroke up on Phil heading to the 18th – after Mickelson had almost holed his approach on the fly.  For the first time during the entire week of this Masters, fans had been able to watch Mickelson play an entire round of golf. He had effectively been shadow-banned from all coverage of the event.  Interested fans like me had pieced together his rounds by following a combination of the Masters app shot tracker and the featured hole coverage – or from thoughtful articles from Augusta like those written by Kevin Van Valkenburgh of No Laying Up.

Make no mistake, Phil and Spieth were a threat to win this tournament when they reached the 18th tee yesterday. Jon Rahm has said as much himself.  Spieth, the spiritual successor to Phil, hit a horrific hook left of the tee straight into the pines. Phil had stood close by to watch.  He walked up quickly, teed his ball, and literally hammered a drive so long and straight down the middle of that ridiculously tight fairway that he picked up his tee and never even once looked at the ball. For that one moment, I thought that an almost 53 year old man was going to win The Masters. The Lords of the Green Jacket had been literally forced to make Phil and Spieth one of the featured groups yesterday – and it was easily the best viewing of the entire weekend. Every shot that group hit was riveting.

Phil followed up that drive with another dead flushed iron shot, which he immediately knew was perfect.  Then he made a difficult (always missed) sidehill putt, which he also knew was perfect. 

At that point he was only two strokes behind Jon Rahm. The Spaniard was left with several shots that have cost people The Masters over the years – think Francesco Molinari on 12 in 2019, or even Spieth himself when he lost to Danny Willett.  To Rahm’s credit, he hit all the shots. He is a worthy champion and seems to appreciate it.

It is so easy in the age of social media to write people off – or decide arbitrarily that they are somehow worthy to have all their past transgressions of the previous 30 years just wiped away.  It really doesn’t matter to me. The brilliant 65 that Mickelson shot yesterday, under the all-consuming pressure of Augusta, was a work of art.  I am happy to have looked at it in that simple light. It reminded me of my son, Jordan.