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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Has Mickelson lost his marbles?

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It has all the hallmarks of a mid-life crisis. Intense dieting. Extreme workouts. An obsession with hitting bombs and chiselled calves. Phil Mickelson has hit the big 5-0, and I’m not sure he was ready for it.

Ever since Mickelson chased after his runaway ball at the 2018 US Open and putted it back up the hill like it wasn’t already moving, Lefty’s been on a similarly slippy slope.

Rightly lauded as a genius for his ability to chip a golf ball over his own head, it was Aristotle who said that ‘no great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness’ and the more I see Mickelson, the more tapped he gets.

We’ve had ‘Phireside with Phil’, a series of awkward impromptu chats between the five-time Major winner and some of the game’s biggest stars. We’ve had similarly odd pieces to camera featuring only Phil and the voices in his head. We’ve had the extreme weight loss – 15 pounds over a six-day period where Mickelson ingested nothing but water and a “special coffee blend”. And now, after playing golf his whole life without sunglasses, Mickelson’s rocking a pair of aviators inspired by South Park’s Eric Cartman. Following Phil has been a strange experience of late and whether or not he wants us to ‘respect his authoritah’, scenes like this past week at Memorial make it increasingly harder to do so.

It wasn’t that the short game master had started tampering with a putting stroke that’s worked for 44 PGA Tour wins that triggered me, though the endless pause after drawing his blade back is disconcerting.

Nor was it the sight of one of the most extraordinarily aggressive attackers of a golf course choosing to lay-up on the 170-odd yard par-3 16th despite languishing in mid-field.

“I took the big number out and left an angle to try and make par,” he explained.

No, it was only after he pulled out the Texas wedge from 78-yards short of the pin on 13 that I wondered if I was watching Mickelson’s marbles scatter across the Muirfield Village fairways, or was I witnessing a man in the swansong of a remarkable career decide, ‘do you know what, f*** it!’

Whatever was happening behind those reflective shades, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, wielders of a wedge took aim at the distant target with a putter and with all that fairway grass to navigate, he came up limply short of the green.

“I saw that playing out differently in my mind,” Phil admitted to his caddie as he approached his arguably more difficult third shot from the green’s edge. And how fascinating that mental insight would’ve proved; I’m thinking Homer Simpson’s thoughts wandering to a chimp in pyjamas smashing two symbols together oblivious.

Of course, Phil being Phil, he took lob-wedge from the tight lie by the green, hammered a full swing at the ball with ferocious speed and delivered it on a cloud to the foot of the pin before tapping in for par.

Confused, frustrated, amused, bewildered, perhaps paralysed by mystery, I sat back on the couch and smiled.

I’m not sure Mickelson is even playing golf anymore. I think he’s playing us…

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