Phil Mickelson will continue to entertain on and off course, says David Livingstone
Last Updated: 04/11/19 12:32pm
Phil Mickelson's incredible 26-year stay in the world's top 50 has finally come to an end, and David Livingstone has been reflecting on the end of an era and hopes the five-time major champion will continue to entertain ...
Seeing a top 50 without Phil Mickelson reminds me of the first singles chart without a Beatles song, the end of a cherished passage of time we thought would never end.
Yes, others have fallen from great heights - Tiger and Elvis come to mind - but their fame had a capacity for self-destruction that would always threaten longevity and wholesome appeal.
Phil has been a fixture in golf's elite and American hearts for more than 25 years but today's slide in the rankings could herald the end of a golden era. Of course, Mickelson will vow to restore his standing and even predict he has another major in his locker but he knows time is against him.
He's achieved a spectacular weight loss which will trick his mind into thinking he's younger and stronger but fighting your age is harder than golf itself. Turning back the years is akin to reversing a receding hairline.
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And yet, Phil's personal star may continue to ascend as his ranking falls because every day not spent at the top of a leaderboard is an opportunity for him to hone his off-course popularity. He discovered Twitter only last year but he's quickly garnered half a million followers who love his unique brand of social media madness.
His much-muscled calves have become more famous than most golfers' careers and his daily deliveries of Zen range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Part-way into a recent message he suddenly wrote: "There is no point to this tweet. That is all."
Humour and self-deprecation is making Mickelson more acclaimed than ever and it's perhaps just reward for a glittering golfing career spanning three decades. When Sky first started live coverage of American golf in 1993, the third tournament was the Tucson Open which had been won two years earlier by Mickelson as an amateur.
In a telling foretaste of what we'd see from the mercurial young master over the next 25 years, he shot 67,65,69 and then a final round of 75 to finish eighth. It was only a blip because he won the tournament in 1995 and again the following year.
Even as a prolific winner in these early years, he polarised opinion. Half of US golf fans saw him as an arrogant Californian kid, the other half loved him like a slice of American apple pie.
Even as a prolific winner in these early years, he polarised opinion. Half of US golf fans saw him as an arrogant Californian kid, the other half loved him like a slice of American apple pie. The sceptics repeatedly said he couldn't win anywhere except the West Coast. When he won in Texas they said he couldn't win East of the Mississippi. When he won in Ohio, they said he couldn't win on the East Coast.
One by one, Mickelson answered each of the questions until he'd won all over the country and all over the world. In doing so, he tamed all but his harshest critics and, at the same time, earned himself the right to be eccentric as well as brilliant.
Time and again, Phil has made bizarre statements about everything from golf equipment and rules to the Tax systems in California and the UK. Last summer he said what we were all thinking when he announced: "I do a lot of dumb stuff."
That followed his farcical behaviour at the US Open at Shinnecock when he putted a moving ball. Not for the first time, he tried to convince us it was good idea. He told us that running after the moving golf ball and putting it back up to the hole was all part of a grand plan he'd been working on for some years.
At first Phil brazened it out, telling the rest of us to "toughen up" and stop whining but after a few days of silence, he disarmingly admitted it hadn't been his finest hour and apologised.
This, remember, is a man who resisted cashing in on his early success as a golfer to finish his university degree in psychology and who, in 2008, appeared before the US Congress to speak on the need for a greater emphasis on maths and science in the education system.
His own intelligence allows him to revel in his reputation for resilience both in golf and life. His public support for his wife Amy during illness and his commitment to his children's happiness have rightly burnished his reputation.
More worryingly, he's had to contend with a constant swirl of revelations and rumour surrounding his gambling and investments. His friendship with Billy Walters, a professional gambler in Las Vegas, led to Mickelson being investigated by the FBI and US Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with insider trading.
There were references to Mickelson having owed Walters $2m in gambling debts but the investigation concluded with no charges. Walters was found guilty of insider trading and sent to prison for five years as well as being fined $10m. He is currently imprisoned in Pensacola, Florida and not due to be released until 2022.
Phil Mickelson must be aware that, once released, Walters may have a story to tell that could be unflattering to his associates. In the meantime, Phil shows no sign of stress, relishing the challenge of fighting his way back into the world's top 50.
On a personal level, he lives a life of unimaginable luxury. The story goes that when he was travelling on a charter flight with the US Ryder Cup team he was handed a boarding pass which gave a time for clearing security. He turned to a team-mate and joked that he'd never seen a boarding pass and then he asked: "What's security?"
It's the kind of anecdote that infuriates those who think Mickelson is arrogant but it has to be balanced against his renowned generosity. I once saw him give every single member of staff in a restaurant a $100 bill to show his appreciation. Ostentatious perhaps, but evidence for me that Phil has always tried to share his good fortune on and off the golf course.
His quarter century in the world's top 50 may be over, for now, but his panache for sporting entertainment and media mischief will keep him centre stage for years to come.