When Phil Mickelson was perhaps 6 or 7 years old, just starting in junior golf, his mother Mary used to put a hand on each of his upper arms and say: “I’m transferring all of my knowledge of golf to you. Every single thing I know.”
“So when he would win,” Mary Mickelson said, “I would say that’s because of all the knowledge I sent to you.”
“He would look at me and just laugh, saying, ‘Mom, what knowledge do you have in golf?’ I said, ‘I’ve got plenty of knowledge in golf.’ ”
At some point, the transfer became telepathic, with Mary making a buzzing noise to transmit.
“Sometimes,” Mary said, “when he would walk out the door, he would say, ‘Where’s my buzz?’ Then I would have to buzz him and he knew then that he could win.”
So Mom dropping knowledge has been Mickelson’s secret all these years?
The long-running tradition was extended long-distance Saturday night with Mary sending Phil a text — “Buzzzzz. I’m sending you all of my knowledge” — on the eve of the final round of the PGA Championship.
Phil went out Sunday and earned a victory for the ages in more ways than one.
At 50 years, 11 months and 7 days, Mickelson became the oldest man to win a major, replacing Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA.
Prevailing by two strokes over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., Mickelson earned his 45th PGA Tour win. It was his sixth win in a major, a feat accomplished by only 13 other golfers in history.
With the victory, Mickelson rose from 115th to 32nd in the world rankings. He also received a five-year exemption into majors, meaning he no longer needs the special exemption he recently accepted for next month’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Mary and Phil Sr. watched everything unfold Sunday from the Del Cerro home in which they raised Phil, his brother Tim (Phil’s caddie the past 4 1/2 years) and sister Tina.
“It’s not easy watching,” Mary said by phone Monday morning. “We don’t invite anybody over to the house because Phil and I are usually up and down and then we’ll say, ‘Why did he do that? Why didn’t he just play it safe?’ That’s all he has to do. Then when it’s all over, you say, ‘I knew he would do it.’
“But those first couple of holes, up and down, the lead was changing, it looked like Brooks was doing well, and then he wasn’t. Then there were other guys right behind. It was intense. And it was fun, now that I look back at it.”
There was concern when Phil’s two-stroke lead immediately disappeared with a two-shot swing on the first hole.
“We were very concerned,” Mary said. “We thought, it’s unraveling. The focus. Maybe four days is just too much, maybe it’s just too hard.
“Then, all of the sudden, he starts coming back and others were faltering. You just didn’t know. It was so close.”
Mickelson’s chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker on the fifth hole was the most memorable shot of the round — the signature shot of the championship — and allowed everyone to exhale.
“They kept playing it over and over, so we got to see it from all the different angles,” Mary said. “From that, we felt pretty confident because now you know he feels the confidence that he can do it.
“So you could tell, the way he was walking, the way he was carrying himself, it was almost as if he knew it was going to happen.
“He just took his time. He wasn’t rushing. He has my dad’s walk. It’s a long, leisurely stroll, like he’s strolling down the freeway.”
Mickelson was even par on the day through nine holes, then birdied the 10th for a four-stroke lead with eight holes to play. The advantage grew to five with six holes remaining.
At one point, early on the back nine, Mary said she saw Tim say a few words to Phil and lightly tap him on the shoulder.
“That was Tim’s way of letting Philip know that he’s got this,” Mary said. “He’s got a nice way of communicating with Phil.”
Consecutive bogeys at 13 and 14 prevented Mickelson from eliminating any doubt, but he still was in command.
It did nothing for his mother’s nerves, however.
“As a mother, you think you need to do something to help, and there’s nothing you can do,” Mary said.
She wanted to text her son and tell him to play it safe down the stretch.
Right then and there.
As they spoke while watching the TV, Phil Sr. said, “Mary, he’s playing.”
Mary: “It doesn’t make any difference. He could answer the text, and I’m going to tell him, he doesn’t have to worry about hitting bombs, just par.”
Phil Sr.: “Don’t you think he knows that?”
Mary: “Well, he may know it, but he needs to hear it from me.”
Instead, Mary texted back and forth with her daughter, including one comical exchange Tina shared on Twitter.
Mary: “Tina, txt Philip and tell him to just par in. Don’t hit bombs or activate calves. Just par. They will have to catch him. He won’t listen to his mother (so) you txt him. Hurry.”
Tina texted back: “I’ll text Tim. He’s the only one Phil is listening to today!”
As Mickelson approached the 18th tee with a two-stroke lead, Mary and Phil Sr. were on pins and needles. Could he finish this out?
“I went back to that U.S. Open (at Winged Foot in 2006) where he had the lead going into 18 and he hit it to the far left,” Mary said. “Flashes of that came back and Phil and I were looking at each other and we said, ‘No, no. He’s got more experience. He will make it.”
Mickelson struck it solidly off the tee (although he did miss the fairway left), hit his second shot on the green and then was engulfed by fans who swarmed Mickelson and Koepka as they walked to the green.
“It was a little scary because we couldn’t see him in that crowd,” Mary said. “We knew he was in it and you never know. People are so happy and thrilled and they get overly excited. They want to touch him. Not to cause harm. They’re just happy for him. And I can understand that. I’d want to touch him, too.
“As he walked clear and we could see him, we felt very good. We knew he could putt, what, two or three times when he was on the green and still win. So we felt pretty comfortable. But you never know until the ball goes in the hole.”
And even after.
“They showed him signing the scorecard,” Mary said, “and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s not even looking at it. He’s just blindly signing it.’ But, of course, he looked at it.”
Mary and Phil Sr. drove to Carlsbad late Sunday night to meet Phil and Tim when their plane arrived at McClellan-Palomar Airport just after 1 a.m.
“We just wanted to give them a hug and tell them how proud we are,” Mary said.
She brought along a cowbell that she was going to ring to celebrate the victory.
The bell dates back three generations. Mary’s father rang it at her basketball games and she rings it now at her grandchildren’s sporting events.
Mary kept it in her purse, though she showed Phil she had it. She didn’t ring it because Tim’s wife Maranda was there with 4-month-old son Asher, who was sleeping peacefully.
Asher wore a T-shirt with the faces of Phil and Tim on the front with the words “The Dynamic Duo.”
The Mickelsons had the shirts made the year Tim and Phil played in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
Mary expects to get the shirts out again to wear at the U.S. Open. If she can get tickets to the event.
“I asked Phil last night and he said he thought that players were just going to get four tickets, so I don’t know,” Mary said. “He’s got a wife and (three) kids. I’m sure they’re going to want to go.”