Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Golf [Print without images]

Saturday, May 5, 2012
Updated: May 7, 11:30 AM ET
Is Lefty's hall call just too early?

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

Perhaps there will come a day when Phil Mickelson will enjoy telling the stories. When he regales us with tales about his win as an amateur, or that comical, inches-off-the-ground leap when he holed the putt to win his first Masters, or the near-misses in other majors.

There is so much to reflect upon, so much to reminisce about, so much that goes into a Hall of Fame golf career.

But Lefty isn't done yet.

All of which makes his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., on Monday night, well, a bit awkward.

Mickelson, 41, contended at the Masters last month, finishing third despite a triple-bogey during the final round that eventually cost him a spot in a playoff. Next month, he is looking forward to the Olympic Club and the U.S. Open, where he has been runner-up a record five times.

Phil Mickelson
Of course Phil Mickelson is a no-brainer first-ballot Hall of Famer. But some, including Lefty, think the minimum age for eligibility (40 years old) is simply too soon in a player's career to earn induction.

"I think it's a great honor," Mickelson said. "And I think golf is unique in that the players are elongating their careers more so than any other sport. I think it should probably be looked to move back to 50 [the age minimum] because the Hall of Fame is an opportunity to reflect on your career.

"And I'm still in the stage where I'm looking forward at my career, looking ahead to other opportunities and other tournaments. I would like it to be more a reflection, but it's still a great honor."

Mickelson is going into the Hall with two-time major winner Sandy Lyle of Scotland, three-time U.S. Women's Open champion Hollis Stacy, golf writer Dan Jenkins and broadcaster Peter Alliss.

Lefty became eligible for the Hall after turning 40, and clearly was going to go in on his first try due to his now 40 PGA Tour victories, which include four major championships. Only Tiger Woods, with 72 career victories, has more wins among active players.

When he won at Pebble Beach in February, Mickelson tied Cary Middlecoff for ninth all time on the PGA Tour for victories. He trails Walter Hagen by five. For the voters, it was about as simple of a decision as it gets.

And yet for the player still competing, it is a strange deal. Ernie Els fought the same feelings last year when he went into the Hall at virtually the same age. On a Monday night Els was giving an acceptance speech and three days later he was teeing off at the Players Championship.

"It was quite a surprise," Els said of first learning he would be inducted. "I thought, for one, you had to be a little more senior."

There have been calls to change the minimum age for induction to separate players more from their playing careers. Baseball and football, for example, have a five-year wait before a retired player can go on the Hall of Fame ballot. Since golfers typically do not announce their "retirement," it seems simple to make the age 45 or even 50 years old.

"We all sit around and watch these speeches by guys getting into the football Hall of Fame or the baseball Hall of Fame and they're not playing," said Jim "Bones" Mackay, Mickelson's longtime caddie. "And here's Phil, who really, really wants to win this week and next week and the week after. I'm sure it'll mean everything in the world to him, but he's still playing a few days later."

Mackay has been there nearly every step of the way with Mickelson. The only victory he missed was the first one, when Mickelson was an amateur at Arizona State and won the Tucson Open. He first started caddying for Lefty at the 1992 sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open, where Mickelson qualified to play his first professional tournament at Pebble Beach.

He's seen the highs, such as the three Masters wins, the victory at the 2005 PGA Championship, the close calls at five U.S. Opens, last summer's improbable run at the British Open.

Mackay joked that he's too old to remember them all now, but of course there are so many of them.

"I'd be out of my mind if I ever thought I was going to work for the guy for 20 years," said Mackay, 46. "What are the odds? It's a nice number and it's cool. I do think everything this year after winning Pebble was winning the Masters. I can see why he's thinking as he has. He's won a lot of tournaments and he's a guy who is [intent] on competing at a very high level for quite a few more years."

Mickelson has achieved all he has without ever being ranked No. 1 in the world, never winning the PGA Tour money title, never having the lowest scoring average on tour, never winning the FedEx Cup. He's never been voted player of the year.

Part of that is playing in the Woods era. Lots of honors were taken off the table by Tiger. But Mickelson has always embraced it, enjoyed going up against Woods, praising him for bringing so much more money and attention to the game.

And looking for more.

"I feel like these next five years could be the best of my career," he said. "I'm still looking forward to what these next five years bring, if not further.

"What I am looking at, as opposed to reflecting on accomplishments, I reflect on what the game has meant to me. It's meant so much to me in my personal life, not just what it's done as an occupation, but the people I've met throughout the game, the place it's taken me, just the opportunities the game has provided me.

"Not to mention how big a part golf is in my life on handling personal issues; when [wife] Amy got sick [diagnosed with breast cancer], how big it was for me to be able to play golf and kind of deal with my own thoughts or just chip or practice or have an hour or two alone on the course to kind of gather my thoughts. It was just a big part of my life."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.