Ever wonder if Phil Mickelson’s a fan of Yogi Berra?
Ever wonder if their paths have crossed?
Ever wonder what they might have in common?
These wonders crossed my mind Sunday as Mickelson enjoyed the time of this life during the final round of the British Open at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England.
"Oh, man," said Mickelson, beginning his official post-Open press conference. "That was some of the most fun I’ve had competitively. It was really a fun start, and it was exciting."
This from a guy who had just kicked away the Open championship. He had done so in typical Mickelsonian fashion. And in so doing, he once again provided proof of Berra’s Theorem:
Ninety percent of this game is half mental.
The game doesn’t matter; the theorem holds.
In the weeks preceding the Open, Mickelson sought to change his pitiful record of a single top ten finish in 22 Open championships. The best way to do that? Begin anew, erasing the memories of results unacceptable to one of the world’s top players.
"I’m entering this year kind of like a fresh start," Mickelson declared at his official pre-Open press conference last Tuesday. "I’m not going to worry about past performances, and I’m going to learn to try and enjoy the challenges of playing links golf. And I’m having fun doing that."
Mickelson, warming to his subject, seemed to be trying to convince himself as much as the assembled scribes. "I’m trying to pretend like it’s my first time here, and appreciate playing the ball on the ground on days like this, and appreciate being able to play some through the air when the wind is a little bit calmer."
Sounds like there was quite a bit of wind at his press conference. But Mickelson was rolling now. "I’m trying not to dwell, and don’t want to look back on my past performances that haven’t been what I expect. But I feel excited and kind of reinvigorated to come over here and try to learn this style of golf and play it effectively."
The New (brainwashed?) Mickelson then described his Tuesday practice round: "I had fun. I enjoyed playing in this kind of wind. It was interesting to see a drive on 17 go 380 yards and a drive on 11 go 210. It’s just interesting."
Then came the clincher: "I really enjoy playing here. I think it’s a fun challenge, whether I play well or not."
Convinced? Or skeptical? Would The New Mickelson destroy the field, or miss the cut?
Turns out, neither. After all that bluster, The New Mickelson went out and played the first two rounds in one-under par. He was never more than a stroke away from par throughout the first 36 holes.
Hardly the earth-shaking result expected of someone reinventing himself, but The New Mickelson remained ebullient. "It was a fun day today!" he exclaimed at Friday’s post-round press gathering. "It’s fun to be in contention heading into the weekend of the British. One of the things I’m looking forward to is actually the bad weather."
Okay, enough. Who took Mister Rogers and stuffed him inside Phil Mickelson’s body?
He shot 71 on Saturday, leaving him even par for the Open, and five shots behind Darren Clarke. But he remained undaunted.
"Yeah, it was a fun day. It was certainly challenging with the rain. It’s fun for me to come over here and have a chance on Sunday." Was this Saturday’s post-Open press conference, or Doctor Phil’s Traveling Salvation Show?
Sunday, all the mind games finally took control. An eagle at seven tied The New Mickelson for the lead. He lipped out a birdie putt at eight, and chuckled. A par on nine closed out a brilliant five-under par 30 on the front nine.
"It was one of those times where you’re not thinking birdie, and things were just happening," he recalled at his final press conference. "I’m not planning on making a 50-footer for eagle, but it just happens.
"I hit some of the best shots I’ve hit in the wind. I made some great putts today."
And then something funny happened to The New Mickelson.
The Old Mickelson returned.
A birdie on 10 had moved him within a shot of Clarke, who had also eagled seven. Mickelson reached the 11th green, and left his birdie putt two feet short. He strode right up and confidently stroked the par putt.
"The putt at 11 was just a stupid mistake," said the Mickelson we know so well. "There was nothing to it. It was just a dumb mental error. I just lost focus there, and it hurts to throw shots away like that when I’m behind.
"When I saw Darren wasn’t going to make a mistake, and he played some great golf, I had to start trying to make birdies, and that’s when I ended up making a couple of bogeys."
That one careless mistake changed his entire mindset, led to three bogeys in the next five holes, handed Clarke the Open championship, and once again proved—all together now—
Ninety percent of this game is half mental.