Phil Mickelson has earned his stature as one of the most popular golfers on the PGA Tour, in no small part because of his affable nature. Turns out, fans can thank Phil’s father for his son’s aversion for throwing clubs à la Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson and, no doubt, a few other players who toil in relative anonymity.
"One time I banged a club on the ground when I was 8 or 9 and my dad made me stop playing," Mickelson told an appreciative audience during his Thursday induction into the Waste Management Phoenix Open Hall of Fame. "I had to walk the next few holes until I was able to have fun again."
That day some 35 years ago was the last time the winner of three Phoenix Opens, including the 2013 edition, tossed a tool of his trade in frustration, which is just as well, given what happened when he did so, for sport.
The non-stop happy hour that is the annual get-together at TPC Scottsdale, as anyone familiar with the "Wasted Open" is aware, is not your father’s golf tournament. While the always hilarious caddie races have, lamentably, gone the way of the mashie niblick, there’s still plenty of opportunity for rowdyism within the confines of the 7,216-yard, par-71 track.
Despite its reputation as the PGA Tour’s frat party, Mickelson was surprised to learn that, during a pro-am some time ago, there was an actual club-throwing contest on the range near the ninth hole. If the competition had taken place adjacent to, or even on, the notorious 16th hole, it may have made more sense.
In any case, being somewhat out of practice in tossing golf clubs, Mickelson’s pro-am partners gave him a quickie lesson, which didn’t work out so well for any of them.
"I hadn’t ever thrown a club since I was 8, so they said, ‘oh, it’s easy, just whirl it,’" recalled Mickelson, who mimed the motions of the unfamiliar stroke.
Which he did, almost killing his partners when he duck-hooked his shot way right.
"I didn’t let go in time and the club goes backwards and misses [their heads] by eight inches," he said, to nervous titters throughout the room at the Phoenician Resort. "I about took [them] out ... and that’s now officially the last time I’ve thrown a club still."
During the ceremony, Mickelson waxed nostalgic about his ties with the community, which include memories of meeting his wife Amy when she was a Phoenix Suns dancer, business relationships forged since his time at Arizona State and his brother Tim's job as ASU's golf coach. In addition, the lower track at nearby Whisper Rock Golf Club was Mickelson’s first course design.
"My ties here and friendships have meant a lot to me and something I treasure and I dearly miss, as I’ve had my family move to San Diego," said Mickelson, who praised all things Arizona sports, from heaping kudos on ASU football coach Todd Graham and Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald, to bringing it back around to golf.
"To be part of that sports here in the valley and to now have won the Phoenix Open three times and be part of the Hall of Fame," Mickelson said, "it feels so great and it's such an honor to be a part of that history and to have entrenched these relationships that have meant so much to me ... starting back in 1988 when I first came here."
The enthusiastic appreciation he expressed for the area, combined with the fact that his longtime caddie and friend, Jim Mackay, calls Arizona home, had some wondering if Mickelson, who took heat earlier this year for complaining about the California tax rate, was planning to return.
"We’re taking it slow," he told azcentral.com. "We’re not making any quick reactions. I love getting back here. I don’t know if it will be on a permanent basis or not. We’ll see. But it’s so fun to come back and see everybody."