In the old days when you heard the pundits invoke this phrase it was usually because Phil Mickelson was trying some hair-brained escape artist shot which was destined to go awry and kill his chances of winning a tournament. He just seemed to have an irrepressible urge to pull off the most risk laden play when something more conservative would have served his interest.
But now “Being Phil” has taken on an entirely different connotation, it is the rare display of a superstar stepping off of the pedestal to say or do what is right rather than what is in his self interest. This is a refreshing sight in a time where most of the famous from the entertainment world seem incapable of seeing beyond their own reflection and taking in their larger image in the world around them.
Two mentions from Tom Boswell’s Washington Post column “Masters 2012-Peter Hanson And Phil Mickelson Have Inspired Each Other” reflect how, as a result of so much personal experience, good and bad, Phil Mickelson has become comfortable with himself and his responsibility to practice behavior we can aspire to.
In spite of having a one shot lead, Peter Hanson is the underdog, the dark horse going into the final round. His inexperience in the pressure cooker of the final group on the final day of a major would make him easy prey for a fellow competitor to diminish or simply ignore. Yet Mickelson spoke with respect and admiration for what Hanson has done so far in earning his way into the final group on Sunday.
As Boswell says, “MIckelson…..was equally impressed with the show Hanson provided in front of him. Phil said, ‘Watching him hole putts on 15 from the fringe, on 17. On 18 he knocks it to a couple of feet. He just played phenomenally. It’s very difficult to try to follow those kinds of birdies when you’re watching it right in front of you’.”
Phil knows he has the advantage of fame and competitive reputation on his side but he feels no obligation to take advantage and assert it on his adversary. By resisting this temptation, he elevates the game of golf to a standard of sportsmanship most other athletic competitions seem incapable of displaying.
Phil also has a reverential respect for the greats of the game who paved the path before him and have provided him with the opportunity for personal fame and fortune.
“On Thursday, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus hit the ceremonial first-group tee shots a 7:40 a.m. That day, Mickelson’s tee time was the very last group of the day, a full six hours later. Yet Phil was there to shake the hands of the Big Three..a gesture that surprised and touched all three, especially since no other famous current stars showed up.”
This is the same respect that Phil carries for the multitude of fans that support him and provide the financial feedbag from which all the pros feed so voraciously. Unlike most of the guys out there, Phil exchanges high fives with fans along the walkways between holes, makes eye contact with strangers who seek out his attention, and even provides an engaging hug to a more familiar acquaintance.
There are those who have questioned his judgment in playing the game early in his career but it is hard to ignore how this same guy has embraced with dignity and respect the competitive atmosphere in which he works.
As Boswell concludes, “Much that once seemed like Phil schmaltz when he was young and bumptious now seems mature, genuine and generous.”