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Good guy? Bad guy? What is the truth about Phil Mickelson?

When Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship, he not only sparked an infusion of interest in golf as the oldest major’s tournament champion in PGA Tour history, but debate rumbled across the country as to the character of the guy.

Mickelson, 50, comes across as an “awe shucks,” kind of guy with a goofy personality and a big heart. Many people charge that his public persona is fake. One radio talking-head said he knew for a fact that Mickelson was a bad guy. My guess is the talking-head never met Mickelson or even laid eyes on him outside of his 50-inch man’s room TV, where the world of sports lies at his fingertips.

My experience with Phil Mickelson

I’ve covered about a half dozen tournaments that Mickelson played. I definitely cannot definitely tell you what kind of guy he is. I can only relay personal experiences with the man and let you be the judge.

In 2001 he appeared in a Par 3 Shoot-Out at Treetops Resort in Gaylord and was one of the nicest athletes I’ve ever encountered. He spoke to fans, doled out tons of autographs, and even gave a kid a ride on his golf cart. Mickelson liked playing Tree Tops because his buddy and hitting coach Rick Smith was part owner in the course.

After the tournament was over, Mickelson met a small media contingent and spoke about his round. I was late because I had to turn in an early deadline story for The Detroit News. After I finished, I ran to the makeshift press conference. Mickelson was finishing up and heading to a car that would take him to a nearby airport for his charter flight home.

I stopped him near the parking lot and asked if I could ask a few questions.

Here is what you usually get from sports figures after they finish with the media.

“Where were you,” they’d ask.

“I’m finished.”

Mickelson did not do this. He sat down on a golf cart and said: “Shoot.”

In other words, he’d take the time for me, and I began firing off questions about his round and Northern Michigan golf. I felt a little edgy because I knew the man wanted to go home. He told me to relax, and he’d answer all my questions.

He did. I thanked him several times as we wrapped up.

He wasn’t preening for the cameras or trying to make an impression in front of a crowd. By the time the interview ended, it was just me, him, and the golf cart.

Let’s Get Real About “Lefty”.

Guys on tour often rolled their eyes when Mickelson’s propensity to sign autographs comes up. People viewed Mickelson as a shill for sponsors who wanted to keep up his good-guy image to make money. Mickelson is aloof and doesn’t hang around players much. 

He’s often in a rush to get home from tournaments to be with his wife, Amy.

Players called him Eddie Haskell, the Leave it to Beaver character. Haskell charmed Beaver’s parents, The Cleavers, only to convince Beaver and his brother Wally to do dastardly deeds.

“I understand how guys feel,” Mickelson told John Feinstein of Golf Digest.

 “I know there are guys who think I’m aloof because I don’t hang out in the locker room. But you have to understand (wife) Amy and I are 24/7. We enjoy being with one another. She’s my best friend. It isn’t that I don’t like the guys. I just like her better.”

Something has changed, though. Players stuck around Kiawah Island Ocean Course to congratulate Mickelson for his history-making performance. Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and others delayed their departures from the tournament to shake Mickelson’s hand.

Even long-time rival and nemesis Tiger Woods posted a tweet of congratulations.

Maybe the message is getting around that Mickelson is not a bad guy.

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