“Fore right!” Phil Mickelson yelled after sailing his second shot long and right at the 72nd hole of the British Open Championship at Royal St. Georges.
“Who did it hit? Who did it hit?” Lefty asked upon reaching the grandstands behind the green, smiling at the crowd as he autographed a golf ball to throw to his victim.
Mickelson has always been quick to sign autographs or give $100 handshakes to fans that have been struck by one of his errant drives or misguided iron shots. He’s also just as likely to tip his visor or slap fives while moving through the gallery, and hang around to sign memorabilia after giving the media as much time as he can, within reason.
And while it is great to keep fans, media members and corporate sponsors happy, Mickelson’s real selling point is his “Phil the Thrill” persona.
Lefty is as American as they come on the increasingly international PGA Tour. Not only does he live a perceived champagne and caviar lifestyle with his beautiful blonde wife and kids, but Mickelson plays the game of golf with a stars-and-stripes swagger, power, creativity and — for better or worse — unpredictability.
It’s hard to be surprised by anything Mickelson does. Even when he’s going low to card 6-under thru 10 holes — birdying Nos. 2, 4, 6 and 10, while making eagle at No. 7 — like he did at Royal St. Georges, fans can only laugh along as Lefty flashes a goofy grin and fist-bumps longtime caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay.
Like any good roller coaster, the highs of watching and rooting for “Phil the Thrill” can descend just as rapidly into the lows of missed opportunity, regret, if only and what if? He may miss a two-foot putt at No. 11 to derail one of the most exciting final rounds in recent memory, like he did on Sunday. It happens.
Even after his misstep, Mickelson played to win — all the while Dustin Johnson was shanking crucial shots out of bounds and eventual Champion Golfer Darren Clarke was bouncing balls over bunkers.
Rather than playing safe for a solo second finish, Lefty kept his typical “if you ain’t first, you’re last” attitude — going for greens and not leaving any putts short. The strategy likely cost him at least one, probably two strokes. But it was the only way to play for a four-time major champ seeking his first British Open Championship. And, in the end, Mickelson still finished with T2 with fellow American Johnson (who took a decidedly different path to the same 278 strokes).
Clearly, Sunday at Royal St. Georges was the Northern Irish gentleman’s day; Clarke was the fan favorite and a deserving recipient of the Claret Jug. But long before the trophy presentation, for anyone watching stateside, “Phil the Thrill” had already stolen the show.