Right At Home

'Philip' Mickelson will have a lifetime of local knowledge on his side in his U.S. Open quest

June 6, 2008

As Barbara Peters was saying, yes, it's quieter around the house now. Her children are grown, as have those of their longtime San Diego neighbors. But back in the day, there were times when the kid next door would try to circumvent the tangerine or lemon tree in his backyard and one of his practice swings went awry and an unguided missile didn't quite land softly, or upon yonder putting green.

"It's not like it happened often," she recalls, "but when it did, even if you didn't hear the crash, you saw the evidence on the floor of our den. A golf ball."

"Mrs. Peters would then phone and ask for my mother," confirms Phil Mickelson. "I would ask whether everything was OK, and Mrs. Peters would ask for my mother again. (Pause.) It seemed like it took me forever to pay for those windows."

Little did Barbara Peters, or her husband, Dr. John the obstetrician, realize then that the baby boy he delivered in 1970 would become rich and famous at this vocation. But Mickelson knew, probably even before he could verbalize his passion, and with the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines next week, the popular left-hander to whom every tournament seems like a home game can't wait for a chance, on his old stomping grounds, to seize his first national championship.

"I'm really excited to see it in Southern California," says Mickelson, "and I'm really glad that it will be on weekend prime-time television on the East Coast. It's scheduled to finish at 10 p.m. Sunday, right? That's great for the sport."

He doesn't miss much, in case you hadn't noticed. For a recent interview, this unthinking reporter showed up in a shirt bearing the logo from Winged Foot, 2006. "You had to have that on to talk to me, didn't you?" Mickleson jabbed playfully. "You didn't have anything else to wear? One of the biggest screw-ups in my career, and you've got to remind me." Mickelson is a different player now than then. Yet on the enthusiasm meter, he is only an adult version of the tyke who got hooked on golf before he could walk. "He's still Philip to me, because Phil is his dad," says mother Mary. "Anyway, late afternoon was fussy time for Philip when he was still crawling. So while I cooked dinner, Phil took Philip outside to keep an eye on him. Phil would putt or chip, and Philip would watch."

But not for long. Soon the son had to participate, and even after he was set-up by his right-handed father, Philip would swivel around to the left, completing the mirror image burnished in his fertile young mind. "Rather than change him because the mechanics of his swing were so sound," says Dad, "I took his club to my tool shop and turned it into a left-handed club."

‘I was no country club kid. We never lacked for anything, but it wasn't silver spoon, either.’
--Phil Mickelson

By 3, Philip was too far gone. He begged in vain to join Dad at a real course, so Philip, not surprisingly, took matters into his own hands. "I packed my Flopsy stuffed animal and a bunch of balls into a suitcase, put my clubs over my shoulder and 'ran away' from home," he says. "I asked another neighbor directions to the first tee and she told me to take four lefts. That brought me back home, where my parents were waiting."

Impressed, dad brought his son to Balboa Park, where the starter reluctantly sanctioned an ecletic foursome that included Phil's grandfather on Mary's side, Al Santos. "Phil hit the ball, ran after it, and hit it again," says Dad. "He didn't slow up at all until the 18th hole, which he suddenly didn't want to play. I thought he was finally tired. No, the reason was Phil knew, if we played the 18th hole, it was over. No more golf for the day."

Phil the father eventually upgraded and that makeshift practice area became manicured with a bunker, shrubbery and assorted other hazards. Philip pounced on it, but the parents who at first slipped him a quarter for every chip-in had to lower the stakes to dimes, then nickels. By age 8, Philip took a job at Navajo Canyon, gathering range balls in exchange for playing privileges. Then, armed with his first set of real clubs -- a reward, after he won his first trophy -- Philip moved on to Stardust, where his Dad took out a membership. "I worked there, too," says Philip. "I was no country club kid. We never lacked for anything, but it wasn't silver spoon, either."

Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today