Spander: Lefty is doing everything right

All that nonsense about Phil Mickelson, the rumors, the criticism, is somewhere in the past. This has been his year, even though he didn’t win as many times as that Tiger guy, even though, like Tiger, he didn’t win a major.

But Phil won many hearts and respect that may have been lacking.

We call 39-year-old Phil Mickelson “Lefty,” because he hits the ball left-handed, even though he is right-handed, which goes against the old golfing concepts.

In the past, natural lefties — Ben Hogan, Johnny Miller for a start — played right-handed because left-handed clubs were hard to come by and because there was a wives tale a left-handed golfer was at a disadvantage. Until Mickelson and Mike Weir, the only lefty to win a major was Bob Charles in the 1963 British Open.

When Mickelson was a tot, he mirrored his father’s right-handed swing and never changed. Now after 37 PGA Tour victories, including two Masters and a PGA, why would Mickelson ever switch? What has changed is others’ viewpoint toward Phil.

There was an absurd article in GQ magazine three years ago that Mickelson was among the 10 most hated athletes. By whom? Not the public.

If you heard tough, sarcastic New Yorkers cheering for him at Bethpage during the U.S. Open, you’d understand how much Mickelson is admired.

As we know, both his wife, Amy, and mother, Mary, underwent treatment for breast cancer during the summer. Phil skipped the British Open, returned for the PGA and all the while kept the faith. Then eight days ago, he won the Tour Championship and he posed for a photo next to Tiger Woods, who took the overall FedEx Cup.

Both will be on the American side in The Presidents Cup this weekend at Harding Park, Mickelson and the International team’s Vijay Singh the only golfers to play in the previous seven Cups. For Phil, it will be a 15th straight year of competing in either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.

Phil was Tiger Woods before there was Tiger Woods, on magazine covers, winning a pro tournament as a collegian — not even Tiger did that — but once Woods arrived, Mickelson seemed to be chasing a ghost.

No matter what he did, it wasn’t what people thought he should do — especially since he was 0-for-48 before winning a major — or what Tiger did. And when Woods and Mickelson were paired in the ’04 Ryder Cup, Phil was blamed for the twosome’s failings.

Now we’re past that. We’re past Phil’s 0-5-0 mark at the 2003 Presidents Cup. Now Phil ranks No. 2 in the world. Lefty is all right.

 

Singh’s issues with putting resurface

He’s won 21 tournaments after the age of 40, more than anyone, including Sam Snead. And his former caddy Paul Tesori, who has a major role in the brief history of The Presidents Cup once predicted Vijay Singh would be competitive into his mid 50s.

But Singh is 46 and, with only three top 10 finishes this year, the best of those a sixth at the Crowne Plaza Invitational, he appears to be losing ground. The putting problems he overcame to win three majors have returned.

A contender halfway through the PGA Championship in August, Singh shot 75 the third day, missing several short putts.

Vijay, from Fiji but a longtime resident of Florida, has played for the Internationals all seven previous Presidents Cups, been in more matches than anyone and has an overall record of 14-15-6.

But Vijay is best remembered for an incident in the 2000 Cup.

Tesori, a good enough player to have earned a Tour card in 1996, was caddying for Singh.

For a match with Vijay and Ernie Els against Tiger Woods and former Stanford teammate Notah Begay, Tesori wore a hat on which he had written “Tiger Who.” Woods and Begay won, 1 up.

After 2007, Singh dropped Tesori. It’s doubtful Tesori will put “Vijay Who” on his cap.

 

On target

Course superintendents, like umpires, seemingly are only noticed when things go wrong. Nine of Harding’s greens were burned when too much fertilizer was applied in the beginning of August and word was the course would not be ready. “It has been blown out of proportion,” said Wayne Kappelman, Harding’s superintendent. “It was repaired within a week, and all 18 greens are in great shape. The course is where it should be.”

 

Newsmakers

Adam Scott
A year ago, the Australian was No. 3 in the world rankings. Then, after months of injuries and other woes, he was No. 53
and figured he had no chance of making the International team. But Greg Norman — also an Aussie — made Scott one of his two captain’s picks, saying, “At the end of the day he’s got the playing skills … what he can bring to the locker room, he was a logical choice.”

Tiger Woods
The world’s top-ranked golfer had an uphill 15-foot putt, with darkness settling in, to stay in the match during a unique sudden-death playoff for the trophy against homeboy Ernie Els at the end of the ’03 Cup in South Africa. “If you missed,” Woods said, “you let your teammates down, your captain down, all the wives and girlfriends. It was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life.” He made the putt. Then it was agreed the U.S. and International teams would share the trophy.

 

Hole to watch

No. 15, 468 yards, par 4
This played as the closing hole in the 2005 World Golf Championship and is normally the 18th when the course is used for public play. The tee shot must carry Lake Merced and a stand of tall trees, yet anything to the right is likely to find two large, fairway bunkers. Once in the fairway, the approach is to a green that is pitched subtly from back to front. Anything short could spin back toward the fairway.

 

Sports by numbers

14-15-6 Vijay Singh’s career Presidents Cup record

13-11-1 Tiger Woods’ career Presidents Cup record

 
5 Total players who will be competing in their first Presidents Cup

 

Schedule of events

TUESDAY
8 a.m. — Gates open to public for practice rounds

WEDNESDAY
8 a.m. — Gates open to public for practice rounds
4 p.m. — Opening ceremonies

THURSDAY
9 a.m. — Gates open to public
11:30 a.m. — Foursome matches
TV — Golf Channel

FRIDAY
9 a.m. — Gates open to public
11:55 a.m. — Four-ball matches
TV — Golf Channel

SATURDAY
6:30 a.m. — Gates open to public
7:30 a.m. — Foursome matches
12:05 p.m. — Four-ball matches
TV — NBC (KNTV, Ch. 11)

SUNDAY
7:30 a.m. — Gates open to public
9:25 a.m. — Singles matches
TBD— Closing ceremonies (30 minutes after play ends)
TV — NBC (KNTV, Ch. 11)

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

To see The Examiner's complete coverage of the Presidents Cup go to http://www.sfexaminer.com/sports/presidentscup/

 

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