Commentary

Mickelson earned World Golf Hall call

Updated: May 8, 2012, 8:03 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Phil and Amy Mickelson had been too busy living their lives -- shuttling their three young children to various activities, tending to their charitable foundation, and traveling around the world to golf tournaments -- to reflect on Phil's golf career. The 40-time PGA Tour champion still wants to win more major championships. Wins at the U.S. Open and the British Open would give him the career grand slam. There was no time for reflection for a 41-year-old man with big dreams.

"We're still in it," Amy Mickelson said. "Our life is so demanding on a day-to-day basis that we don't stop to think about everything that's happened."

But Phil Mickelson's induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday night at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine forced him to pause and take a journey back through the years from the time he was a little kid in his backyard chipping area in San Diego to some of his most pressure packed moments in major championships.

Taking the podium last after the four other 2012 inductees -- Dan Jenkins, Sandy Lyle, Hollis Stacy and Peter Alliss -- Mickelson framed his 20-year pro career through the lens of a journey that succeeded because of a committed group of people who stayed the course with him, nudging him along through all his triumphs and disappointments.

Mickelson thanked everyone from his caddie to his parents to his siblings to his wife and children to his coach to the folks who gave him a job as a teenager at the Stardust Country Club so that he would have a place to develop his game. On Monday morning during the drive over to the World Golf Village, Phil had told Amy that his induction into the Hall of Fame was for all those people that had been with him through the years.

"When I really think about it it's not about shots hit or tournaments won," Mickelson told his wife. "It's about this journey and all the people who have helped me along the way."

Mickelson made a similar point in his speech on Monday night. "We're all in this together," he told his friends, family and support staff.

But Hall of Fame speeches are very often celebrations of the parents, coaches, wives and grade school teachers. They are thank-you fests. What makes Mickelson's story so compelling and rich is the way that he has been able to mostly keep his team intact through all these years. For a major superstar, he has had a remarkable run of good fortune in both his personal and business relations. That's a testament to the character of the man.

Since turning pro in 1992, Mickelson has one manager (Steve Loy) and one caddie (Jim "Bones" Mackay). He's had a few teachers -- Dean Reinmuth, Rick Smith, Dave Pelz and now principally Butch Harmon -- but through thick and thin he has stayed close with all of them.

"I don't know of a better support system than Phil's," Amy said. "He's incredibly lucky to have people who have supported him for 20 years and they are still the same people in his life. He's had a very loyal team."

Smith, who was at the ceremony, first began working with Mickelson at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional. Together they won three majors. When Mickelson replaced Smith with Harmon after his bitter disappointment at Winged Foot in '06, their friendship continued to blossom. Today they are building golf courses and golf academies in China. Smith believes that Mickelson's greatest season was 2004. That year Mickelson won the Masters, got a second at the U.S. Open, a third at the British Open and a T-6 at the PGA Championship.

"It was just an impressive stretch," Smith said. "That year he really figured out how to hit a cut when he wanted to. He was good for a really long time.

"The question was how many majors could he win. He could work it both ways, but his ability to hit a cut was the thing that he needed to do the best. It allowed him to attack pins differently."

Smith compares Mickelson to three other Hall of Famers.

"Phil was a combination of Palmer, Seve and Jack," Smith said. "I always said that if I could put a little bit more of Jack into Phil nobody would beat him.

"Phil loved being in contention. He practiced to be in contention. He practiced to win."

Smith remembers how Mickelson handled himself with grace and class after the debacle at the 72nd hole at the '06 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

"I will never forget him going out to sign autographs after that," Smith said. "Most people would have been in a room somewhere locked away."

Bones, who was there with Mickelson that afternoon at Winged Foot, has been on all of his man's professional wins.

Loy, Mickelson's coach at Arizona State and longtime manager, was on Lefty's bag when he won Tucson in 1991 as an amateur. Bones is the man behind the man. While he has never hit a shot for Mickelson, perhaps no caddie has ever been closer to his player than Bones.

"Bones is the best there is out there," Smith said. "He knows a lot about the game. He was a good player. He knows everything about Phil's game. He knows what to say and when."

Bones was at the ceremony on Monday night. He had taken the day off after a long week in Charlotte at the Wells Fargo Championship. Earlier in the day he had taken his son to see "The Avengers." Like Phil and Amy, he's such a competitor that it's difficult for him to be too reflective with so much work left undone on the golf course. On Tuesday, he was looking forward to getting prepared for the Players Championship.

Perhaps no one understands this story of continuity and perseverance better than Mickelson's parents, Phil Sr. and Mary. They know their son's story best and what mattered most to him on Monday night -- family and friends and a firm sense of gratitude -- he learned from them.

"I think he truly appreciates his children and wife more now. Every year it gets even more so," Mary Mickelson said. "It's so important to him. That's what's neat to see.

"When someone comes up to you and says what a great guy he is, instead of a great golfer, that to us is the most important thing."

That's probably the last word that Mickelson wants on his life's work. But I'm sure he would also like you to know that he's not done winning golf tournaments. The Players Championship this week is the first event of the rest of his life as a Hall of Famer. It's time to pick up with the journey.

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

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