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Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Updated: November 10, 2:37 PM ET
Tread carefully, Phil Mickelson

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

The election of Phil Mickelson to the World Golf Hall of Fame on Thursday comes as no surprise. The 41-year-old lefty owns 39 PGA Tour wins, including four majors. The San Diego native has been the consummate professional: excellent with the fans and mostly generous with the media.
Phil Mickelson
At 41, Phil Mickelson certainly believes he has more victories, if not major wins, coming down the pike.

Through his many triumphs and failures on the golf course, Mickelson has always been a gracious torchbearer of the sport's legacy as a gentleman's game. But the Hall of Fame should come after a player is done playing.

It's true now that golf pros play well into their 60s on the Champions Tour, but 41 is too early to make a man a legend. Mickelson is right in the middle of his career. He still believes he can win.

This season he took on a sports psychologist for the first time to help him think better on the golf course. He's been experimenting with a belly putter after years and years of using a traditional blade-style wand. And since forever he's been trying to tighten that athletic but often unwieldy golf swing.

He's trying to get better every day because he still believes he can win majors. Why would he want to celebrate his career now?

When Ben Hogan was an older man on the PGA Tour in the early 1960s and '70s, he used to tell the younger players to not call him Mr. Hogan, because he reasoned that you shouldn't be too awed by a man that's trying to beat you. Hogan was right. That humility kept him battling long after most of his game had left him.

Old-school grinders like Hogan are never comfortable with the awards and ceremonies. They are gracious to a fault, but the adulation can feel like giving flowers to a man who is getting ready to die.

I'm aware that the World Golf Hall of Fame folks start putting players on the ballot as soon as they turn 40. Mickelson can't control that and he should have a big celebration with his family next May at the ceremonies before the start of the Players Championship. But psychologically, he has to look past this moment to his future as one of the elite players in the world.

"It's a really cool honor and I'm excited to be part of the Hall of Fame that has names of the greats of the game," Mickelson said at news conference at the Barclays Singapore Open, where he is playing this week. "Many of whom I looked up to and idolized and got a chance to compete with during my playing career. It's a special feeling."

I'm sure that Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley have all idolized Phil and have been very grateful to compete against him, but at the end of the day, they want to beat him.

There is something decent and respectful about honoring the workingman for his full body of work, where he can reflect back over the years of his career to assess the accumulation of his efforts and achievements. Mickelson is nowhere near that point. There is still a British Open and a U.S. Open that he wants to add to his legacy.

Moreover, I'm sure he's taking this honor genuinely as good news, but also as a hint from the golfing gods that his story is still being written.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.