Golf

Mickelson belongs in the Hall — in 2022

Image: Phil Mickelson (© AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
With likely many fist pumps in his future, does Lefty belong in Hall now?
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.

Phil Mickelson will be inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday.

He shouldn’t be.

Not because he doesn’t deserve to have his name emblazoned large in the game’s pantheon.

The charismatic, swashbuckling left-hander is one of the greatest pure talents to ever pick up a club and has four majors — three Masters and a PGA championship — among his 40 PGA Tour career victories, which ranks him ninth all-time, and has won nearly $66 million in prize money.

The problem is that, at 41, it’s just not his time yet.

It’s frankly preposterous that Mickelson will be inducted Monday, then drive to TPC Sawgrass where he’ll be one of the favorites to win arguably the biggest tournament outside of the majors, The Players.

It’s like putting Derek Jeter into Cooperstown right before he goes to Fenway for a big series against the Red Sox.

Or honoring Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan while they’re still athletically relevant.

The beauty of an institution like a Hall of Fame is that it allows both us and the inductee to reflect on what they’ve achieved; what they meant to the game and to hear them recount what it all meant to them.

A reflection that can only be fully appreciated once the curtain’s been drawn.

A reflection that can only be fully appreciated through the prism of time.

Instead, it’ll be for Mickelson little more than just another event he’s got to attend on a busy calendar, as it was for Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, both of whom felt it strange to be so honored when they were still among the world’s best players.

“It was a bit of a surprise," said Els, who was inducted last year.

“I always thought these things happen when you’re finished with your career.”

Mickelson feels similarly conflicted.

He thinks that making players eligible at the age of 40 is a product of a bygone era. (In both professional football and baseball, candidates have to have been retired for at least five years before they can be considered.)

“I wouldn't be opposed to moving the age to 50,” Lefty said a few days ago.

“I think now with fitness being a bigger part of the Tour, guys' careers going longer, I think that would probably be a better point to reflect on your career as opposed to being inducted while you're right in the middle of it.

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“I feel like at this age right now with things I've learned from Butch (Harmon) and things I've learned from (Dave) Pelz and the way my golf swing is, where (I’ve) been very injury-free . . . I feel like these next five years could be the best of my career.

“So I'm still looking forward to what these next five years bring, if not further.”

After finishing tied for 26th at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, NC, on Sunday, Mickelson was asked if he‘d finished writing his speech for the ceremony at St Augustine.

“I haven’t started it,” he said.

“I was going to work on it tonight.”

Last week, Mickelson gave some clues about how he’d approach the induction.

“What I am looking at, as opposed to reflecting on accomplishments, I reflect on what the game has meant to me,” he said.

“Because it's meant so much to me in my personal life, not just what it's done as an occupation but the people I've met throughout the game, the places it's taken me, just the opportunities the game has provided me.

“Not to mention how big a part golf is in my life on handling personal issues; when (his wife) Amy got sick, how big it was for me to be able to play golf and kind of deal with my own thoughts or just chip or practice or have an hour or two alone on the course to kind of gather my thoughts.”

Perhaps it’s a byproduct of playing in the Tiger Woods era, but it’s something of an oddity that Mickelson’s never been No. 1 in anything: be it the world ranking, or the money list.

He‘s never even been voted Player of the Year or won the Vardon trophy for having the lowest stroke average in a season.

Consistency has never been his strong point, but it often isn’t for shooting stars. His highs are stratospheric and, at his worst, he can be very bad.

But Mickelson’s meant more to golf than just birdies and bogeys on a scorecard.

He’s about the most popular golfer to walk a fairway since Arnold Palmer because he takes the time to acknowledge fans — no player signs more autographs — and captures imaginations with his adventurous, go-for-broke style of play.

A style of play for which he’s unapologetic.

“You’re going to make mistakes,” he said. “It’s going to happen. You have to deal with losing. It’s part of the tour. Out of 156 guys each week, one person is going to win, so 155 lose. But you can’t worry about that.”

“Rather than play tentatively or with concern or fear or let somebody else hand it to you, I’ve always liked to get the tournament in my control where if I execute the shots, I’m able to pull off the victory.”

It’s a philosophy that’s lost him as many tournaments as it’s won for him, and it’d be nice to hear what he thinks about his career . . . in about 10 years’ time.

Tagged: Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els

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