By Rick Duncan, Publisher
There are many influential athletes in every sport, but if you pay attention to the very core of the greatest athletes ever, you may just find that they are normal and very humble people. Given, there are exceptions, but true champions are always willing to listen and learn and to challenge themselves to the fullest. When your attitude morphs into thinking you know it all and that your ability is the best that it can be, you’re doomed for failure in life and as an athlete.
This week we focus on golfer Phil Mickelson. I have met and followed Phil since the beginning of his career. I have never witnessed an individual in any sport that can top Mickelson’s interaction with the fans, especially the children. He is the epitome of the essence of sports. Many professional athletes make no attempt to recognize their fans or they limit their interactions to the minimum, but Phil Mickelson will take all the time needed after a tournament in order to go out and sign autographs, especially for the children.
His interaction with his caddy and his instructor is one of respect and is a professional interaction like no other. Golf is one of the only games that you are not playing on a team, except for The Ryder Cup, The President’s Cup, certain Pro-Ams and on LIV Golf. But you are always competing with other golfers and yourself. Many years ago a great scientist said that an organism at war with itself is doomed for failure. It’s the same concept when you consider your team is an organism as a whole and one individual’s attitude or negativity, if accepted by others, can destroy the team. The me-me-me can doom team play to ultimate failure.
We all need mentors. I still have mentors in every aspect of business, but all athletes, whether you’re in high school or a seasoned professional in your sport, should always align their specific sports intellect with individuals that portray the essence of sports. No one can tell you who to follow as a mentor, but one characteristic to look out for is when an athlete plays in a team sport and focuses only on themselves. It is certainly apparent that they are not a team player.
In order to be the essence of sports, one must always focus on the team as whole and what your specific role is as a team member, not yourself. Focusing on yourself should only come into play when you’re training or practicing and attempting to better your play. Always respect your coaches, whether you feel their advice is right or wrong. That does not mean that you cannot question plays, techniques and strategies, but disrespect is not the way.
Phil Mickelson is in the Golf Hall of Fame and is now considered one of the elite golfers of all time. He has won 45 PGA Tour events, including six majors: three Masters (2004, 2006, 2010), two PGA Championships (2005, 2021) and one Open Championship in 2013. Phil won three NCAA championships (1989, 1990, 1993) while at Arizona State and had a PGA Tour win as an amateur at Arizona State. When he won the 2021 PGA Championship, he was one month from turning 51, becoming the oldest golfer ever to win one of golf’s major championships, yet most of the sports media ignores Mickelson. It appears that they always downplay the family oriented and ethical athletes and only focus on the negative.
Phil’s commitment to the game is proven through his practice and training. One of his drills is to make 100 three foot putts in a row, and if he misses one, he starts over. Mickelson practices extensively on a daily basis. He credits his success on “focus.” He practices in tournament-like conditions and he feels that if he inserts stress into his training, he is in a better position to stay calm while in tournament play and he can deal with the stress more efficiently.
For many years and for the rest of his life Phil has dealt with and will deal with psoriatic arthritis, which is extremely painful. There are times his pain is so intense that he can barely get out of bed, but he pushes through it. The Mickelson family was also dealt a drastic blow in 2009 when Phil’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, and less than two months later his mother was diagnosed with the same. Through all of the above, Phil has still found a way to win and maintain as a great husband, father and son and even make golf history at the age of 50, but one aspect of his character sets him aside from all others. If there are kids waiting after a tournament for an autograph, Phil makes certain that after he has turned in his scorecard, he signs autographs until the very last kid has received one, whether it takes 10 minutes, two hours or longer. I know this to be a fact, because I have witnessed it several times. Phil is truly the essence of sports.
I hope Mickelson’s athletic character can touch just one athlete who reads this. The next time you’re feeling down from a loss or questioning your ability, think about being the essence of sports and at that time, focus on making yourself better for you individually and the team as a whole for the next battle on the court, course or field. Never give up and never think you know it all.