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For the first twelve years of his career, Phil Mickelson was one of the world's most skilled, successful, and beloved professional golfers. He also spent most of that period under the cloud of a different title—"The best golfer never to win a Major." Mickelson's persistence and talent were finally—and dramatically—rewarded with his heart-stopping, come-from-behind victory at the 2004 ...
For the first twelve years of his career, Phil Mickelson was one of the world's most skilled, successful, and beloved professional golfers. He also spent most of that period under the cloud of a different title—"The best golfer never to win a Major." Mickelson's persistence and talent were finally—and dramatically—rewarded with his heart-stopping, come-from-behind victory at the 2004 Masters.
Endurance traces Phil Mickelson's golfing career from the day he shot an amazing 144 as a three-year-old to his Masters victory and beyond.
Invaluable for golf fans and business readers alike, it reveals how, after already securing fabulous success in both his career and personal life, Phil Mickelson continued to study and refine his game toward reaching even greater achievement and fulfillment.
Phil Mickelson is esteemed around the world as the "Everyman" who reached the top. Endurance charts how Mickelson overcame disappointment and adversity to claim the ultimate prize—and how anyone can follow his model to do the same.
Breaking from conventional wisdom with those we teach, work with, and guide in our daily lives is not always the easiest task. It is certainly easier, and seemingly much safer, to play the odds and lead by expecting and demanding that tasks be done as they've always been done. But Phil Mickelson and perhaps, more importantly, his father are testaments that the courage to give natural talent, headstrong commitment, or both a chance to succeed can yield great results.
Less than 5 percent of the golfers in the world play from the left side of the ball despite a left-handed population that is three times that number, and until the success of Mike Weir and most recently Phil Mickelson in the majors, the world's biggest professional golf tournaments were almost never won by lefties. It was an act of faith in talent, then, that Phil Mickelson's father followed his instincts and let his young son swing the golf club from the "wrong" side of the ball, because the world's most famous left-handed athlete isn't actually left-handed at all. He just plays golf that way.
Born on June 16, 1970, in San Diego, California, Philip Alfred Mickelson writes right-handed, throws a ball right-handed, and eats right-handed. Yet he's one of just seven left-handed players to ever win on the PGA Tour (he owns twenty-three of the thirty-nine wins) and is well known by fans with the nickname"Lefty." How Phil Mickelson began playing as a left-hander dates back to the earliest months of his life.
Mickelson's parents both loved sports. His mother, Mary, was a good basketball player as a young lady at Our Lady of Peace High School in San Diego and is noted by friends and family for her competitive spirit. His father, Phil Mickelson Sr., was a navy and commercial pilot with a single-digit handicap and a ferocious hunger for golf. The Mickelsons already had a child, one-year-old daughter Tina, when Mary Mickelson was pregnant again in 1970. Due to the family's impending growth, Phil and Mary Mickelson went in search of a house to buy. In a new subdivision in San Diego, they found a modest house that had one characteristic that intrigued the couple: the lot was oddly shaped and abnormally larger than others in the neighborhood. They could have found a bigger house, but none for the price had the benefit of such a big yard. With one child already and another on the way, Phil and Mary Mickelson made a calculated bet that a big yard was more important than a house with greater style. The decision would play a significant role in the family's future.
When their first son was born, Phil and Mary sent out birth announcements to friends and family that stated "the Mickelson foursome was now complete" and included a picture of the baby being posed on the nose of an airplane. When Mickelson was three months old, he got his first golf club, as a gift. The idea of giving such a tiny baby a golf club goes against the natural tendencies of many parents. It might be fitting, perhaps, for Peyton Manning to lay a football in the crib beside a newborn son, but Phil Mickelson Sr., pilot, giving his infant child a golf club?
Learning Is Observing
Whatever he was thinking, it worked. Just more than a year later, an eighteen-month-old Mickelson would join his father in the big yard of the family's San Diego home for a little practice time. Just call it an apprenticeship in the extreme degree: father swinging, child watching, child imitating. All the lessons from professionals given years down the road could never duplicate or replace what occurred in Mickelson's oddly shaped backyard with father teaching eager-to-learn son.
For a good view and also for safety reasons, Mickelson would stand adjacent to his father, carefully watching his smooth, right-handed swing. Mickelson began to grip his own club and take it back and swing, just as his father did. Mirroring his father made Mickelson's swing left-handed, however.
"He would stand in front of me," Phil Mickelson Sr. said, "and draw back the club, like a left-hander, and hit it with the back of the club. He hit the ball awfully good."
Since Mickelson's club was right-handed and the child appeared to be right-handed in everything else he did, his father tried setting him up in his footsteps, on the right side of the ball, so he could strike it properly. But just before swinging, the toddler would turn around, regrip the club, and take a big swing from the left side of the ball. Mickelson's club was a homemade, cut-down junior 3-wood.
"He was watching me swing right-handed," Mickelson's father recalls. "He was hitting the way he saw me hit it. It was a right-handed club, so I kept turning him around, and he kept turning back to left-handed."
It's long been known that children learn from their parents both good and bad by observing their actions, but it often does not hit home with full clarity. Nobody illustrates this clearer than Mickelson and his father, though, serving as a powerful reminder that even the smallest of children are acutely aware of what their parents do and how they do it. By emulating his father, Mickelson created his own swing, albeit backward. It was just like his father, but in mirror image reverse. When his father tried showing him the "right" way to swing the club, it appeared wrong and the young Mickelson would have nothing of it.
Left Is Right for Some
This is the point in an unconventional situation when many parents, coaches, or business managers would throw in the towel and demand a switch to the more conventional side of getting things done. The clubhead was taking a beating as the youngster continually smacked the ball on the back of the face. Why let the child ruin his club when he could just force him to hit from the same side of the ball used by almost everyone else in the world? His father, though, shaped the clubhead so his son could continue playing left-handed and never again tried to turn him into a right-handed golfer.
"Remarkably," Phil Mickelson Sr. said, "he seemed comfortable and he wasn't swinging that badly, so I decided I'd just change the golf club rather than the swing."
Letting his son swing left-handed, when the vast majority of golfers in the world are right-handed and his son was naturally right-handed as well, was a fortuitous decision for the elder Mickelson. By allowing him to follow his natural instinct, Phil Mickelson Sr. unleashed a passion for the game of golf in his young son.
With a toddler's blond hair and smiling disposition, Mickelson carried his patchwork club, held together with electrical tape, around with him just like other children his age carry around a favorite toy or a security blanket. And he used it at every opportunity. Mickelson's father placed a golf cup in a hole in the ground in the family's large backyard and cut the grass around it down short so it resembled a green. He made a tee box so his children could hit balls to the target. The toddler followed his father around with his golf club constantly, so much so that the grass was worn to the dirt. As Mickelson's motor skills developed, his golf swing evolved at the same time, resulting in a natural and balanced stroke for the youngster.
The father's passion for the game rubbed off on his son at an age when most children his age had not moved beyond blankets, blocks, and large, soft round balls. When pictured in a family photo at age two, Mickelson is dressed up in knee socks, black shorts, and a double-buttoned, candy-striped white sweater, but in his left hand is a golf ball and in his right hand is his favorite golf club.
"That club," Phil Mickelson Sr. said, "went with him everywhere he went. It was like his teddy bear. As long as it was next to him, he was ready to go to sleep."
Mickelson's father not only gave in to his son's left-handed golf tendency, but he also fueled his desire by providing him tools to practice his favorite trade. By the time Phil Jr. was three, his father had handcrafted him a small set of sawed-off left-handed golf clubs. With his own bag, the youngster was eager to go where his father went on the weekends, beyond the small thirty-five-yard hole in his yard to a real golf course with full-size holes. When told no, he and a friend ran away from home, in search of a golf course. Mickelson had his favorite club in hand.
"He'd ask the neighbors for directions," his father said, "and they kept directing him to turn right. He kept following their directions, and, of course, he ended up back in front of the house."
Instead of getting mad and punishing his wandering way, Mickelson's father realized his son had an unusual hunger for golf and that it was his passion and likely his talent. He was trying to push outside his boundaries because it was his natural desire. It was not a matter of escaping boundaries as much as it was an innate desire to explore new and natural ones.
His young son's point was made, and his father realized that the three-year-old was serious about getting onto a golf course. Among his first exposures was a round at a par-3 course, San Diego's Presidio Hills. Mickelson's father kept his son's score on a scorecard the family still has. The score was 144. It was obvious, even at age three, that Mickelson had an unusual talent. His father saw that his hand-eye coordination allowed him to strike the ball better than many beginning adults. The fact that he addressed the ball from the left side only meant that, for him, he was playing the right way.
His father supported his son's desire to play the game at every opportunity. Because his father retired as a navy pilot due to a back injury and served as a commercial pilot during his son's childhood, he worked the typical pilot schedule of a couple of days on, several days off, allowing him more time to spend on the course with his son.
"The greatest thing about my father's job," Mickelson said, "was that, if he was home for three or four days, it was for the entire three or four days. The most enjoyable times I've had playing golf have been those hours we spent together. He'd pick me up right after school. We used to go to a local municipal course, Balboa. After about fourteen, fifteen holes, it would be too dark to play. In pitch black sometimes, we'd have to walk all the way from the far end of the course through the canyons to the car. Those walks are my fondest memories in the game."
Where You Want to Be Is Where You Belong
Most fathers are not eager to take a toddler along as one of an afternoon foursome of weekend golf, but at age three and a half, Phil Mickelson was taken along as part of a foursome to a full-length public course in San Diego. Including his father, his grandfather, and a family friend, the group had a tee time for the 18-hole course at San Diego's Balboa Park, which also has a 9-hole course. When the foursome reached the starter before teeing off, he gave them a puzzled look. Apparently, the starter was not sure that a three-year-old belonged on the 18-hole course. In most cases he would probably be right. What he did not know is that the boy's father had been resisting, assuming the very same thing. When the child showed through his actions that he was ready, though, there was nothing else to do but let the boy on the course.
The starter strongly suggested the foursome try the shorter, 9-hole course. The three men and one small boy pleaded. The starter relented, sending Phil Mickelson and his bag of sawed-off golf clubs on his way to his first full round of golf.
"He was at that age when he could walk well," his father recalled, "but he was running awkwardly. He'd hit the ball and then run after it and hit it again. He didn't slow us down at all."
Several hours after beginning the round, the foursome reached the 18th hole. Looking uphill at the finishing hole, Mickelson asked the others if it was their last to play. Assuming he was tired and not wanting to walk up the hill, the men assured Mickelson it was their last. Instead, the youngster cried, not because of the difficult walk ahead, but because he did not want his real round of golf to end.
Not one to tire from activity, Mickelson was said to be so rambunctious as a child that his parents made him "wear a football helmet around the house because he kept running into the edges of the furniture."
"I remember wearing it and somebody asked my mom, 'Why is he wearing that?'" Mickelson said. "I come running around the corner, bang, right into the corner, fall down. He said, 'Oh, I get it.'"
The golf success was only the beginning for Mickelson, though, as he began playing during every free moment he had. His home was near Presidio Hills, a "pitch and putt" par-3 layout that is the second-oldest course in the San Diego area. In "old town" and with a historical adobe building as its clubhouse, the course, built in 1928, became a "home away from home" for Phil Mickelson. It was at Presidio Hills that Mickelson claimed his first-ever golf victory, winning the Harry McCarthy Putting Contest at age five. The other golfers he beat were as old as thirteen, but Mickelson was not intimidated by the competition.
Also at age five, Mickelson and his six-year-old sister, Tina, won second-place trophies in their age groups in a Pee Wee International event. Already telling his family he wanted to be a golfer when he grew up and never considering the remote odds of making it as a professional, Mickelson played Presidio Hills so aggressively that by the time he was seven, his first score, 144, had been cut in half. To keep the par-3 course interesting, Mickelson would "redesign" the course when nobody was around. For instance, he would hit from the fourth tee to the seventh green or put himself behind a tree or in a bunker to simulate difficult conditions.
Already a fan of professional golf, Mickelson would watch Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus on television, then pretend at Presidio Hills he was playing in big tournaments against the best in the world. Approaching the 18th green, for example, he might imagine he was paired with Nicklaus, who already had a shot close to the pin. Mickelson knew he had to get inside of Nicklaus to win. He would take dead aim at the pin, often enough getting inside of Nicklaus's imaginary ball. At other times he just played the course trying to better his previous best effort. In 1977, seven-year-old Mickelson made his first birdie (on the Presidio Hills 18th) and broke 70 for the first time.
"My parents used to drop me off there every day around eight in the morning and pick me up around six or seven that night," Mickelson said. "I loved it, I just loved it."
Simply being on the golf course was as natural for preteen Mickelson as playing cowboys and Indians or doll house was for other boys and girls. He was as close to being born with a club in his hand as is possible, and he could see it was a game that his father loved. His backyard was a golf hole, and his life, even at a young age, was becoming centered on golf. Mickelson obviously felt a kinship with his clubs and golf courses, and the appeal of the game came naturally to him.
The Benefits of Closeness
American corporations rarely refer to their workers as family anymore, because the term is far too endearing and attachable. The father figure is out; the colder, more professional mentor is in. People, however, learn better and faster when advice and instruction are coming from someone they deeply respect, if not love. For Phil Mickelson, it was certainly a difference-maker, learning his first lessons in golf from his father and practicing and playing the game with his entire family.
With three children, including Tina, Phil, and younger brother Tim, the Mickelsons were a typical 1970s American family, living in the suburbs in a middle-class home. Phil Sr. had a military background, but his long, bushy hair was relative to the times, as was his mod dress. Five-foot-seven Mary was active in her children's lives, taking a hands-on role in school and sports. The family was tightly knit and active in many areas, both individually and together.
Excerpted from Endurance by David Magee Excerpted by permission.
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1. Following Dreams (and Talent).
2. Beating the Pros.
3. Managing High Expectations.
4. Facing a Lurking Tiger.
5. Dealing with Defeat.
6. Setting Priorities.
7. Enduring Tough Times.
8. Mastering the Moment.
9. Savoring Victory.
Appendix 1: Phil Mickelson’s Road to Major Victory.
Appendix 2: Phil Mickelson’s PGA Tour Results.