VetFamily: Phil Mickelson A Golfing Icon

Phil Mickelson

Many golf fans this week are looking for an encore from Phil Mickelson, Jr. at the Masters.

The sport certainly needed some good news last spring and it got it with Phil and his dramatic victory at the Masters. Phil delivered a performance that was as inspirational as it was a testament to family values and ultimately, a tribute to Phil’s Navy pilot father.

Always a crowd favorite, Phil in 2010 had to overcome extraordinary family adversity, while outshooting the best in the world on the legendary Augusta course. And winning it three times since 2004 has now made him a perennial fan favorite.

His place at the top comes in part to a father who trained him since he was 18 months old to always differentiate himself from the competition and, by example to honor those who serve. Phil has become one of the few successful left-handed golfers in the sport’s storied history. His support of traditional family values is widely known and greatly appreciated by fans and general public. His family-oriented charitable activities in support of those who serve are substantial.

Revered by fans and PGA Tour peers, Phil Jr. has a reputation for risk-taking perfectionism on the course, qualities synonymous with a Navy pilot mindset embodied by his father, who flew combat jets for the Navy. After his service, Phil Sr. became a commercial airline pilot, and had the opportunity to spend more time with his family. While family ski weekends almost qualified him for the U.S. Olympic Ski team, he passionately pursued golf with his son. And for four months, the youngster attentively watched his right-handed father hit balls before it was time to take some cuts himself. Surprisingly, when young Phil started to swing, he did so as a left hander. While Dad was demonstrating correct swing fundamentals, it seemed natural to mirror his father's right-handed swing. When Phil Sr. tried to move him to a right-hand swing, it was not to be. "After the third time" (left-handed), Phil Sr. said, "his swing was unlike anyone's I've ever seen for someone that young. We weren't going to fool around and change his swing."

These days finds Phil Sr. in the golf business as well. His family-run business (with his wife Mary), Sportscopes, is operated by the Mickelson Group, Inc. The signature products manufactured is a great spectator tool at golf tournaments. These metal, hand-held periscopes are extendable and provide clear, magnified, unobstructed views over crowded galleries at golf tournaments and other events. They consist of fine glass prisms, highly polished glass lenses, a focusing eyepiece, height extension system, detachable plastic handle, and a carry case.

Had rival Tiger Woods not taken the PGA Tour by storm in 1996, few doubt Mickelson would be considered the very best of this current generation of golfers. Always at the top or near the top of the leaderboard, for a while, however, he garnered the distinction of “best golfer not to win a major” – that is, until 2004, when he won his first green jacket at the Masters.

Now, he’s got three of those famous green jackets in the trophy case back home, including a PGA Championship title along the way, and the critics have been silenced.

His wife Amy (with Phil, left) has been there for all of it. They met as college sweethearts at Arizona State, and have been married since 1996. In 1999, while in a neck-and-neck struggle with the late Payne Stewart at the U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C., Phil stunned the golf world by saying he would walk off the course if his expectant wife gave birth during the tournament. Buzz about Phil’s decision persisted through the last day of the tournament. Phil unfortunately lost in a thriller, but Amy gave birth to Amanda early that following week, and Phil’s public dedication to “family first” was solidified.

Ten years later, in the summer of 2009, Phil’s family bonds were once again tested before the world stage. His wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer, and his mother Mary – named the March of Dimes Mother of the Year in 1998 – was likewise struck only a few weeks later. Phil Jr. took a voluntary break from the sport, as he and his father rallied to support their ailing wives.

“As a professional golfer, competing in major championships, and winning them, is my main objective. But I've always said family is my number one priority,” Phil said in announcing his decision at the time.

"Early on, he told the press that sometimes he'd be driving and just start crying," Jim "Bones" Mackay, Mickelson's caddie going on 20 years, told Parade Magazine last month. "That's an amazingly powerful thing for him to say. Part of why he's successful is that he plays completely without fear. He's a bulletproof kind of golfer. So for him to say that speaks to how incredibly scary this entire experience was."

In the aftermath of Augusta last year, the success of that victory was muted once again by family adversity, this time with his own health. Soon before the season's last major tournament, the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Mickelson announced he had been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.

"Amy and I have always said we wanted to grow old together. We just didn't know old was going to be 38 and 40," he told Parade Magazine.

Under the watchful care of doctors, and with the help of medication, Mickelson is playing full time again…and winning. Most recently, last week at the Shell Houston Open.

Through it all, Phil and Amy have demonstrated their own deep appreciation for the military. Their charitable activities include support for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Homes for Our Troops and Birdies for the Brave, helping to raise money for these three organizations.

"Family is everything to Amy and me," said Mickelson, "and this is our way of helping families in need stay together and grow strong even after the loss of a parent. Birdies for the Brave is an opportunity to salute the men and women who have given their lives on our behalf around the world and to let their families know their sacrifices won't be forgotten."

Birdies for the Brave was created by the Mickelsons and currently enlists the help of 11 other professional golfers. The Phil and Amy Mickelson Charitable Fund also contributes $100 per birdie and $500 per eagle to the Birdies for the Brave program, $24,100 since last year, and to date, the entire "Birdies for the Brave" program has raised $250,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Looking forward with hope, including the 2011 Masters and two important days on the horizon -- Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – to include all the special people in his life, and another green jacket, Phil intends to win more majors. But it is with his wife and children where it all matters.

"To have her share this moment, share the joy of winning on 18 [at the Masters] and share this with my kids, is something that we'll look back on the rest of our lives," he said. "It means so much to us to be able to share this type of jubilation.”

“My family has reduced the effect of my career on my self-esteem,” he says. “When I’m with them, they make me feel special regardless of how I play.”


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