I am a Phil Mickelson fan for simple reasons. I've always loved a lefty (even though he's right handed), I like his aggressive style of play (it's cost him...and I'm ok with that), I admire his 28 year relationship with his caddy Jim "Bones" Mackay, I think gamblers can be fun (sorry!) and and any time a professional athlete is older than me, I celebrate their achievements. For example, I was upset when Tim Duncan retired not because I think he's such a classy and talented athlete, but I was sad to lose someone over 40 still making a run for it! Mickelson turned 46 in June. Therefore my bias toward Mickelson over Stenson, permitted the camera—otherwise known as my eyes and mind—to go out of its way to watch him on the course. I found myself psychoanalyzing his every move. I asked myself What is his body language suggesting? Why isn't Phillie walking with Bones right now. How much does he love finishing his putt first?
Some competitors lose sight of the larger game that is unfolding before them. I know because I've been that athlete, but I can't say that was true of Phil Mickelson during the Open final. He recognized good strokes and putts by Stenson, he smiled when the Swede completed an incredible up and down, rather than pouting or walking away without acknowledging what he did. He offered an extensive congratulations to Stenson—the number six player in the world— upon his victory. The face to face dialogue reminded me of the exchange between Payne Stewart and him at the US Open, Pinehurst in 1999. But in that duel, not this one, the man ushering the warm words was the victor, not the one who walked away in defeat.
Henrik Stenson will represent his country at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, but other golfers like Rory McIlroy have opted out. McIlroy, himself a former Open champion explained "I didn't get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win majors."
I will be blogging about McIlory's comments soon as every fiber of my being disagrees with his outlook. Though I believe professional athletes must have a mindset that their goal is to win championships and win majors, I also believe it can and should be done in a way that grows the game. I think Mickelson's words affirm that it did: "I played close to flawless golf and was beat. It's probably the best I've played at not won. But Henrik made 10 birdies, so what are you going to do?" Like Justin Rose said, "nothing."
Phil, you may have lost on Sunday, but you have won the respect of the man who holds the 2016 Claret Jug and most especially those who love the game of golf. I hope you and Stenson said three powerful words as you walked off the course: "We did that." You did....he just did it better. Thank you
Stenson and Mick