PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

Golf Digest Logo Phil Being Phil

My Shot: Keeping Up With The Mickelsons

December 08, 2015

TINA: When Phil and I were little and Tim was just starting to walk, Mom would head out at night to her monthly PTA meeting. While she was gone, Dad would build an obstacle course around the house. You know those tall, flexible poles with flags on them people put on the backs of their bicycles? Dad put them up all over the place. He'd lay them across the arms of couches and chairs for us to jump over, dive under and go around. There was a chin-up bar. Dad would time us, and I had the edge because I was in gymnastics and was more agile than Phil. He'd get so frustrated. Just when he figured out a way to get under the pole quicker and get close to beating me, I'd have Dad change the rules. "Have us do more pull-ups, Dad," I'd say, and Phil would fall behind. We all learned to look for an edge, and there was never any handicapping to accommodate our ages. Nothing was low net. We were a low-gross family.

TIM: My most vivid early memory of Phil is of being on a houseboat our family rented on Shasta Lake for a week each summer. We had a Jet Ski, and our dad would set up an obstacle course. He used empty oil cans, weighted down, as buoys. He'd time us. I was 6, Tina and Phil were in their teens, and needless to say, I didn't win much. Everything was a competition.

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TIM: Phil is seven years older than me, so when we played football indoors, he'd level the playing field—a little. He had to play on his knees, and I got to run. He had to tackle me, and I just had to two-hand touch him. He'd hike the ball to himself, and just when I'd go to touch him, he'd toss the ball in the air and claim the touch didn't count because the ball was airborne. He did a lot of stuff like that. He always won. But back to the houseboat. One afternoon it was so hot outside we stayed in the boat. Phil had taught me how to play poker—for money—and all I had was a small bucket full of pennies. I left to use the bathroom, and when I came back, Phil dealt me a straight flush, king-high. I ran to my room, got the bucket and dumped the whole thing into the pot. Phil calls the bet and reveals he's got a royal flush. Imagine that. He took every penny. Much later, he admitted he'd stacked the deck when I left the room. He bought me a lot of dinners to make up for it. But he never did give me my pennies back.

TINA: You know that memory game on the computer, where you try to uncover two identical symbols? My son, Lucas, is 4, and he's good at it. Last night, Phil challenged Lucas to a game, and, concentrating furiously, barely wins. They play again, and Phil barely wins again. Phil is punching the air like he does when he makes a big putt. He's going, "Yeah!"

Lucas says, "Come on, Uncle Phil, one more game." And Phil says, "Lucas, I think you need to go practice on some easier competition for a while because you're just not ready for me." He was joking. A little.


TIM: It was just an unwritten rule that Phil was never going to let me win at anything. As I got older, the tide turned in my favor. When we play tennis, I receive no greater joy than dropping a shot just over the net so Phil has to charge in to get it, then watching him run back to the baseline to retrieve the lob that follows. The strategy, of course, is to tire him out and take advantage of the age difference. It works, and it's very satisfying. Phil has an edge on me in golf and throwing a football—he's got a great arm. That's about it.

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TIM: I was playing with Phil one day at what is now Grand Del Mar here in San Diego. Through 12 holes, I was nine under par and threatening the course record of 64—which was held by Phil [the record is now 62]. I had an easy par 4 and a reachable par 5 ahead of me, so it's looking good. Phil says to me, "You do know you're nine under, right? You do realize this is the round of your life?" I was so up in my head after he said that, I limped in with a 66. You might wonder why he'd do that to me. You might say it was an awful thing to do. I'm cool with it. It was brotherly love in a way only brothers can understand.

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TIM: During a recent family ski trip, these kids are coming up to Phil during the day and saying, "You're Phil, right? You're going down tonight!" And Phil is answering them with, "Yeah? Bring it." Turns out that the night before, Phil had snuck down to this area of the resort where these kids are playing dodgeball. And he gets into the game with them. I couldn't get over the picture of this 45-year-old man mixing it up with a bunch of 10-year-olds, bombing them with the ball and getting bombed in return. But that's Phil.

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TINA: Three days ago, we're on the beach during a family staycation. Phil and Tim are throwing a Nerf football. Dad is close by, watching, and the rest of us are sitting a good distance away. Suddenly we watch our dad interrupt the game. He takes the ball from Tim. I ask our mom, "What's Dad doing?" And she says, "Can't you see? He doesn't think Tim is throwing the ball correctly. He's giving him a lesson."

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TIM: He's 80 years old, and he's telling me I need to keep the nose of the ball down better. Like I had an NFL career ahead of me. Our dad, who used to be a flight instructor, never stops coaching. He's always looking for a more optimal way to do things. A lot of that rubbed off on Phil, I think.

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TIM: It's no secret that Phil loves Ping-Pong. It became a passion for him somewhere around the early 2000s, when it became a big deal in the Ryder Cup team room. Phil quietly wanted to become very good. So for Christmas one year I hired a former U.S. Table Tennis Junior Champion, Dr. Michael Lardon, to give Phil lessons. I also got Phil an excellent paddle, one sticky enough to help him control spin. Phil practiced like crazy, and he improved, especially at masking his serve. But it's not quite to where he can beat me. We'll play best of seven, and Phil will win the first two games. Then I catch on to his serve and win the next four. It's tough on Phil.


TINA: My dad put golf clubs in our hands the moment we could walk. I got my first club when I was 18 months old, before Phil was born. Phil got his first club when he was 16 months old. He played left-handed from the get-go, and I remember my parents expressing concern that it was going to be very hard to find quality left-handed clubs as Phil got older. So my dad made a right-handed club for Phil to sort of tempt him, but Phil quickly turned it over and swung left-handed with it. They gave up on the idea of changing him over. Good call.

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TIM: The amount of practice Phil put in as a kid was unreal. It was just constant. Dad built this little practice green in our back yard, and Phil would go to the front yard and hit over the house and aim for the green. He had me shout out where the ball landed. "Ten feet to the left of the hole," I'd yell, and then, "Five feet to the right, and short." What's incredible—and only I saw this—was what Phil could do when he got dialed in. After he adjusted, he started actually holing shots. I thought he was magic.


Photos: Courtesy of Mickelson family

TIM: Another thing I've seen Phil do is make two balls collide in mid-air. We were on the practice range at Stardust [now Riverwalk] in San Diego while Phil was in college. He faded one ball, quickly hooked another while the first one was still in the air, and they collided. It took him 15 minutes to do it, but I saw it. I defy anyone else to do that. I know that for 30 years I've tried to do it, and I haven't really come close.

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TINA: Phil thrives on pressure. He experiences it differently than most people. He's told me that when the pressure is on, things fall into focus. He sees the lines better. Things slow down, and there are only great outcomes. Only great athletes are like that.

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TIM: To Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and the other guys Phil loves to play for money in practice rounds, here's a tip: If you're ahead on the bets, don't let Phil know it. If he asks where the match stands, just shrug like you don't know, or tell him he's ahead. Chances are, he's not following that closely. But if you let him know you're winning, especially with a couple of holes left, you've got a problem because he'll pour it on at the end and beat you.

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TINA: One Thanksgiving we were having people over. Our mom told Phil to stay close, that he was going to be needed to help out. Well, Phil disappeared. He paid the next-door-neighbor kid to drive him to the course so he could play. Mom and Dad went looking for him, found him, and on the way home gave him the business. There was going to be a punishment for this. When our parents put a foot down, that usually was the end of the discussion. But this time, Phil rebelled a little. He told my mom, "Every day I don't practice is a day the other guys are getting better. If I'm going to be great, I need to practice." Phil got that from Ben Hogan, I think.

TIM: When I was in eighth grade, I had a huge crush on a ninth-grade girl who had moved here from Tijuana. She was bilingual, and I figured if I could say something nice to her in Spanish, it would impress her. Phil knew some Spanish, and I didn't, so I asked him for a nice phrase to say to her. "Tell her, 'Usted tiene un hermoso culo,' " he said.

"It means, 'You are very beautiful.' " I spent a weekend perfecting the phrase and then walked up to this gorgeous Mexican girl and told her, "Usted tiene un hermoso culo." She slapped me across the face. When I told Phil what had happened, he started laughing, tears down his face. When he was finally able to talk he said, "Usted tiene un hermoso culo means, 'You have a beautiful butt.' "

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TINA: When I was in college at San Diego, I was a little sister for a fraternity. I became good friends with one of the guys in the frat and referred to him as "my big brother." He was a great guy. One day I was with Phil and referred to "Gaston, my big brother." Phil said, very seriously, "He is not your brother. I'm your brother." I gulped and said, "OK. Got it." Phil is very territorial about his family.

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TINA: Because we're family, it's easy to overlook Phil's power to influence. When I was going through the PGA program in 1993, I had to pass the 36-hole Playing Ability Test—the dreaded PAT. It was at Palm Springs in July, and I asked Phil and Tim to stop by and give me some support. They played Bighorn in the morning, and late in the second round, here they come, barreling onto the course in a cart. Three guys in my group were trying to pass the PAT, too, and they promptly fell apart and failed. Phil's presence intimidated them, which bummed everyone out because everybody roots for each other. I didn't pass, either, though I did later. One guy said, "I can't believe you'd do that to us." Fast-forward 15 years later.

I was reaching out to a client to get a deal for a company I was representing. I recognized his name as someone I'd played in a PAT with but didn't realize it was that PAT. At the end of my pitch, he said, "Oh, yeah, I was in your group that day in Palm Springs." We didn't get the deal.

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TIM: I think everyone in our family would choose the 2004 Masters as Phil's coolest victory. It was his first major, and it got the monkey off his back. But what made it more terrific was that it happened four months after our grandfather, Alfred Santos, passed away. All of us, Phil included, believe that Nunu [his family nickname] had a hand in that.

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TINA: Two weeks before the 2004 Masters, I had a dream. My grandfather and I are at the Masters. We're standing by the 18th green, and Phil has a putt to win. It's crazy that no one else is around, but you know how crazy dreams are.

I tell Nunu, "I want him to make this putt so bad. Oh, I hope he makes it." And my grandfather says, "He'll make it even if I have to go down and kick that ball into the hole." Phil makes the putt, and there's this huge eruption of crowd noise, even though there are no people there. I jump and turn to my grandfather, but he's vanished, and the dream ends. It was so powerful I began telling people about it. One friend in particular was going to Las Vegas on business. I told her to put a bet down on Phil. On Sunday of that Masters, as Phil came to the 18th hole, our family was ushered down in front to watch. The hole was on the front-left part of the green, and we were standing back-right—exactly where Nunu and I were standing in the dream. Phil's approach stopped in exactly the same place behind the hole, as in the dream. As Phil got set to putt, I leaned over to Amy and said, "He's making this." A few seconds later, it was a dream come true.

TIM: Until that Masters, my favorite was when Phil won the 1991 Tucson Open as an amateur. I was in eighth grade, and when I went to school on Monday, a bunch of my friends told me they saw me on TV. I was like, "Yep, that was me." I felt like a star.

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TINA: When Phil came home from his first British Open, in 1991, he gave me ball markers from each of the courses in the rotation. I'm sure he's forgotten he did that, but it remains the piece of Phil memorabilia that has the most meaning to me. I use those ball markers for every round, including tournaments, scrambles and rounds by myself. I like to think of my family, and those ball markers make me think of Phil.

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TIM: Phil gets on these kicks. Black holes. The stock market. Magic. Dinosaurs. The Kennedy assassination. He sucks every possible bit of information he can from them. Then, as quickly as it started, the kick leaves. The magic kick was the most intense. Phil's card tricks and sleight of hand dominated many a family get-together. The downside is that card tricks get a little tedious after 30 minutes or so. The upside was that it always gave us something to get him for Christmas.

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TINA: Phil is known for being generous with locker-room attendants and service people in general. Less well-known is his knack for sensing when a person can use a little help. A while back, our mom heard through a friend of a friend that a waitress at a local restaurant was in trouble with her rent. Phil, not knowing anything about it, showed up at that restaurant. He left a tip that day that made a huge difference to that woman. He left without knowing the impact he had made, and he still doesn't know it today. He does gestures like that on pretty much a daily basis. Not wild philanthropy, but displays of thoughtfulness that make me proud to have him as a brother.

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TINA: In a career as long and successful as Phil's, there also are going to be disappointments. I think the one at Winged Foot [2006 U.S. Open] was the hardest for him. He isn't one to dwell on setbacks, but that one stayed with him awhile. Wanting to help put it to rest, I thought of throwing a party. I was going to have a piñata made of the Winged Foot logo, and I was thinking we could all bash the piñata, and with it, that memory. But the maker of the piñatas didn't get the concept, and the idea fell apart. Which is just as well. It was better to let the Winged Foot episode slowly fade away.


TINA: My brother has a remarkable capacity to put negative experiences behind him. Not just in golf, but personal things. Many people, when there's a dispute, they'll forgive, but not everyone forgets. Phil, he honestly forgets. If you have a disagreement with Phil, there's a 100-percent chance that after it subsides, the next time he sees you it will literally be like nothing ever happened.

TIM: Some more brotherly love, Phil style. When I was starting to become a decent player, I'd be standing over an iron, and from the cart Phil would say, "I know where you're going to miss this shot. I'm going to write it down. Let's see if I'm right." Which immediately makes me think, What does Phil see that I don't? Am I too afraid of that bunker on the right? He doesn't think I'm going to hit it in the deep rough left of the green, does he? I'd hit the shot, and when I missed, Phil would uncover the prediction. Amazingly, he was right 100 percent of the time. Then one day I caught him writing down LEFT on the scorecard and RIGHT on the plate under the scorecard. Wherever I missed, that's the part he'd uncover.

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TIM: Late in 2014, I decided to give Phil a try as my assistant coach at Arizona State. He loves ASU and is very loyal. I thought it was a great idea on a number of counts, not the least of which was his power to help me recruit. I thought a phone call to a recruit from Phil Mickelson would be pretty convincing. So it was not a publicity stunt. Well, during his stint, he called three recruits, kids I really wanted. None of the three chose Arizona State.

In January 2015, Phil resigned, joking that I'd fired him. I didn't fire him, but the truth is, if he hadn't resigned I would have had to fire him. He wasn't getting the job done.


Photo by Todd Glaser

TIM: For all the funny stories I tell about Phil, I want the world to know I love him and that if you're ever near him, you'll end up loving him, too. He's generous, loyal, good to his family and cool beyond belief. I read sometimes that Phil couldn't possibly be that nice in real life, that what he does is a put-on, that nobody can be that wonderful. But to those of us who know him, he's as genuine as they come.

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TINA: At the beginning of our family get-together this past weekend, Phil was bothered that my kids, Lucas and Gabriella, didn't pounce on him immediately. They're just little, 4 and 3 years old, and were a little shy at the outset because they don't see him every day. Phil's insecurity about that was beautiful to watch. He poured everything he had into making them love him. His beloved San Diego Chargers were on TV, but there was Phil, playing the memory game with them and making himself irresistible. Granted, the Chargers were getting smoked, but at the end of the day, all Phil really cares about is loving and being loved by the people close to him.