I read an article recently that Phil Mickelson was hoping that Seve Ballesteros would make it to this year's Masters.
As you may have heard, Ballesteros, the two-time Masters champion and emotional leader of the European contingent at every Ryder cup from 1983-1995, the captain of the European squad who won the Ryder Cup the first time it was ever played on continental Europe, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in October, 2008.
The reason Mickelson was hoping Ballesteros would be in Augusta this April wasn't so that he could get the legend's autograph.
It was because he was hoping to honor the fiery Spanish legend by serving traditional Spanish cuisine at the Champions Dinner.
For those of you who don't know, the Tuesday before the Masters is when the men who have won the Masters gather and the defending champion picks out a meal for them. It is a tradition dating back to 1952.
Mickelson, knowing the frail health of the five-time major champion, and realizing that our days of being graced with Ballesteros's presence may be numbered, wanted to show Seve one last token of respect.
In that gesture, whether it comes to fruition or not, lies the very core of the reason why people love Phil Mickelson as a golf player and as a man.
In the world of sports, athletes are known only by two things: their play and their actions off the field of play. Fans really never get to know the men and women behind the athlete.
Talk is cheap. An athlete can say anything he or she may like, but it is actions that will define a player in the eyes of fans.
Phil Mickelson's actions show him to be a man of character and value.
Golf fans love him because he plays golf to win. He is unconcerned with the money, and has little regard for "good finishes." Phil Mickelson plays to win trophies, and his style reflects that.
He will often eschew the conservative play that might give him a good chance to come in second in favor of the high-risk shot that, if he can pull it off, will give him a better chance to win.
This is a man who perfected a shot from off a steep side-hill lie that flies over his head and lands on the green behind him, and then had the sack to attempt it in competition!
This is a man who once intentionally hit a shot to skip across a lake, again in a competitive round!
The man is completely fearless on the golf course. It's as if he doesn't have to pay for the golf balls he uses.
But there is more to it than that.
Other athletes have charitable foundations, but Mickelson, with his wife, Amy, and ExxonMobil founded a teacher sponsorship fund. Not to take anything away from the good that athletes do for children, or cancer sufferers, or the multitude of other charities—they are all truly worthy causes. But Phil and Amy found a way to help people who are very deserving and have little support outside of their families, their friends, and their field of endeavor.
Speaking of Amy Mickelson, she is a cancer survivor, as is Phil's mother, Mary. The two most important women in his life were diagnosed with breast cancer within weeks of each other and the man quit the game for what he termed at the time an "indefinite" amount of time. Not that any man in the same position wouldn't have done the same, but he had to actually do it, and it was no decision for Phil.
He knew he had to be with his family.
Phil won his first major in his 13th year on Tour. Having won a Tour event as an amateur (1991 Northern Telecom Open), the length of time it took him to win that first major led to him having to answer repeated questions about being the BPNTHWAM (Best Player Never To Have Won A Major). He did so with grace and class, every time, even when it was apparent he was growing weary of the question.
In a time when athletes are in the newspapers for drinking and driving, and fathering children in five different cities by five different women, when players are self-aggrandizing, egotistical boobs, more concerned with their image than their performance, Phil Mickelson is a man to be admired.
He is one hell of a golf player, and he is a man of good character.
In a world where Charles Barkley once claimed not to be a role model, Phil Mickelson is one, and a very good one.
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