Phil Mickelson: family man, man of people ... and never boring

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson hits a tee shot during a practice round Tuesday for this week's U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C. (Tyler Lecka / Getty Images / June 10, 2014)

From PINEHURST, N.C.

The most interesting man in the world may not be that guy in the TV beer ads. It may be Phil Mickelson.

Even though he is instantly identifiable in the world of sports merely as "Phil," he is certainly not just plain Phil.

There is nothing plain about Mickelson.

He is a walking, living, breathing puzzle. He is among the greatest golfers in the world. He has proven that by winning 42 tour events, including five major titles. This is his 24th U.S. Open and he is already in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

All that, plus much more, makes him the belle of the ball here this week at Pinehurst No. 2. It is the U.S. Open and he has never won one. With other golfers, that makes them underachievers or chokers. With Phil, it only amps up the attraction.

He has finished second six times in the U.S. Open, including last year at Merion, Pa. It was 15 years ago, right here, when Mickelson's first child was about to be born and winner Payne Stewart so memorably grabbed him by the face on the 18th green and told him that was much bigger than any golf tournament.

Justin Rose is the defending champion, but Phil is here and the curiosity about him never wanes.

He is Phil, the family man.

In 2009, he missed a good portion of the season to tend to his mother and his wife, both battling breast cancer. Of course, he still won three tournaments and $5.3 million.

Last year at Merion, he flew home the day before the tournament began so he wouldn't miss his daughter's graduation from eighth grade — the same daughter about to be born when Stewart took Mickelson's face in his hands. He flew right back to Merion, shot 67 on Thursday, led the first three rounds and fell two shots shy of Rose.

He is Phil, the tinkerer.

Tuesday, he told the gathered media here that he had changed his putting approach — for the U.S. Open! — and would go to the claw grip on the club with his bottom hand.

"I've won majors with two drivers, with one driver, with no drivers," he said. "I've done some crazy stuff, but one of the dumbest things I've done — which actually never came back to bite me — was in the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage. I changed irons after the first round." He also finished second that year.

He is Phil, the over-thinker.

Asked Tuesday if, with so many of the story lines centered on him, he ever allowed his mind to wander to holding that trophy on Sunday night, Mickelson said: "I try not to, because I don't want to get ahead of myself. But it's only natural that I'm going to. Occasionally, I catch myself, but I really try not to. . . . When I jump ahead [in my mind], that never really works out good, at least in the past. Six times."

He is Phil, the over-analyzer.

Asked whether he pondered the six second-place finishes and could draw from those anything that might help going forward, he noted that five of the six times, it had rained.

"I'm pulling for rain," he said. "I feel like if it rains this week, it will be much more difficult for guys to putt from off the green. It will force them to chip, and if it is wet, it's so much easier to chip where the ball is skidding through the first bounce and then checking. See, as the edges of the greens roll, they're also — the grain is going into you."

Huh?

Then, he is Phil, the gambling man.

CHICAGO

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