Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lefty and Arnie...sounds about "right"

As a passionate fan of everything western Pennsylvania, I grew up a huge admirer and fan of the great Arnold Palmer, native of Latrobe, PA (i.e. homeland of Rolling Rock beer and Steelers' training camp). Even though Arnie's player career was long over before I could even pick up a putter, the man casts a shadow over the region that lives on to this day. I thought about Arnie as Philly Mick (as I like to refer to him...much to the humorous delight of my wife) strolled through Amen Corner at Augusta last weekend, firmly in control of his game and his destiny. Being two years removed from shaking the ridiculous "greatest player to have never won a major" title, he just seemed so at ease and peace as the people's champion, a crown Arnie so proudly wore for many years. See, and my father can definitely attest to this, I latched onto to Phil Mickelson as "my guy" from the day he stepped onto the tour in 1992, right around the time I caught that unshakable golf bug that lives in me to this day. I had seem him play as an amateur and read about him in Sports Illustrated, and just decided, as many 14 year olds do, he was going to be my guy. If had known the roller coaster ride ahead, I may have thought twice. Between the dominant tour wins (I witnessed live the Greater Hartford Open record 61 in 2001) and the disappointing major losses (All of the Sunday Masters collapses, the US Open losses to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst in 1999 and Tiger at Bethpage Black in 2002 ), it really started to feel as if it wasn't meant to be. When that putt dropped in 2004 on #18 at Augusta, it was as if a cloud was lifted, and it was at that point that it really sunk it that an entire legion of PGA fans had joined me as part of something bigger. Yeah, we can clearly never be Arnie's Army, but Phil's Platoon isn't too shabby either (albeit cheesy). And, as I was watching him in complete control of his game on Sunday, it felt good to say that I had been through thick and thin with this guy. It wa the first time, truly, that golf felt like a team sport, sticking by your team through all the ups and downs. He was a man on a mission. Of the probably hundreds of rounds I have watch him play, I have never seen him so in control of his driver, hitting what seemed like every fairway, and his putter, draining pressure putt after pressure putt. I can honestly say I never thought I would see the day when Lefty would have a throw-away bogey putt on #18 in a major to win by 2 strokes, as calm as can be. It's funny, there were a lot of typically overzealous writers that jumped on the bandwagon after the 2004 Masters win, claiming that Phil was only scratching the surface and could go on to win 6-7 majors. I thought they were nuts and doing their stereotypical flip-flop on a guy that they had loved to bury in the past. Now, after watching him win 3 of the last 9 majors, those guys do not seem as crazy. Either way, it has been a great ride, and I am sure glad I was on the bus early.


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