The gods of golf decided to go for cheap melodrama on Sunday, letting Phil Mickelson walk away from the field and take a third Masters as his cancer-fighting wife Amy looked on. Well, maybe we shouldn’t credit it to the gods, but to Mickelson’s all-around game, which only Tiger Woods can match at times when his morale and concentration aren’t shot to hell.
Insofar as fate or divine intervention had anything to do with Lefty’s win, they seemed to be against it. He had an extremely makeable birdie putt on the 2nd hole, but on his backswing a stamen from a pine tree plopped directly in the path of his ball. This was creepy, as Bill Simmons would say, on a Blair Witch level. As Jim Nantz and Verne Lundquist summoned their formidable intellectual powers to the task of figuring out what the hell happened, CBS cut to a wide shot of the hole. The day was sunny, without enough wind to stir a puff of pipesmoke; there were, and are, no trees within 70 or 80 yards of the hole. The offending vegetation appeared to have dropped vertically out of a clear sky. 81-year-old Dan Jenkins, the Twitterizing dean of the world’s golf writers, quipped “I’ve never seen that before, but this is only my 60th Masters.”
If Mickelson had lost by one shot, everyone would be making a big deal of the incident today; since it betokened nothing and is already being forgotten, let it serve an instructive lesson in how superstitions come about. But let’s also note that a stamen is the male reproductive organ of a plant. Apparently Phil has less trouble getting distracted by such things than some other golfers [rimshot].
I never liked the old Phil Mickelson much. Somehow, and I’m not at all sure this was ever a fair perception, he seemed to combine smugness, haphazard stewardship of his talent, and weak nerve; that he was liked by American galleries from the beginning only made matters worse. It was a source of wholly non-patriotic delight to me when fellow “lefty” Mike Weir beat him to a major-championship victory. (Weir, Mickelson, and New Zealander Sir Bob Charles, the only lefty swingers to win majors, are all right-handed in everyday life; the world is still waiting for a truly lefty Lefty.)
But in the face of the Tiger era, Mickelson buckled down, worked hard, and found another gear, without sacrificing his family, his cheerfulness, or his relationship with the fans. With each passing year he looks more impressive, more like someone who stands as a living rebuke to Woods—to say nothing of the Sergio Garcias, the David Duvals, and the Notah Begays, the players who had the innate gifts to match Mickelson’s tournament record but haven’t closed the deal. It’s doubly endearing that Lefty has been quietly trying to minimize the bathos of his wife’s and mother’s cancer diagnoses, subtly discouraging reporters from whispering at him as though they were huddled in the rear pews of a funeral Mass. (Journalists don’t equate cancer with death; they think it’s much worse.)
Before the fourth-round tee time, I heard some mike-wielding goofball actually approach Mickelson and attempt a lurid thumbnail sketch of a tumour-ravaged, vomit-flecked Amy feebly rising from her sickbed to watch Sunday’s golf from home. Mickelson, forgiving and full of pep, pointed out that the Mrs. had joined him in Augusta and would be in the gallery that very day. And so she was. She looked great.