It used to be known simply as the Bob Hope. Now the Desert Classic is sponsored by American Express, and it runs from Thursday through Sunday at PGA West in La Quinta CA.
Today, we take you back to 1992 when Jim Murray took to his Sunday column to write about Phil Mickelson, the lefty from San Diego.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 12, 1992, SPORTS
Copyright 1992/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
He Does Everything Else Right
CARLSBAD — You can tell right away what Phil Mickelson is doing wrong over the golf ball. He’ll never get anywhere that way.
He’s standing on the wrong side of it. He’s got it all mixed up. Someone should have straightened him out.
Look! What’s the first thing they tell you on the lesson tee? Keep your left arm straight, right?
Phil Mickelson’s is as loose as a wet noodle. You have to figure he’s hopeless.
I can hear Jack Nicklaus telling me now, Lesson 2: “Put your weight on your right side going back, shift to your left side coming down.”
Mickelson’s got it absolutely in reverse.
You know, you listen to golf aficionados in the better locker rooms and, for a couple of years, they’ve been telling you Phil Mickelson is the next great player. John Daly is the wild card. He’s either going to make a 2 — or an 11. But Mickelson is the full house. He’ll make a 2 — or a 3.
His credentials are impressive. He won consecutive NCAA championships.
Only two other guys have done that. He won the U.S. Amateur. That’s a major. He won the NCAA and the Amateur the same year. Only one other has done that — fellow named Jack Nicklaus.
Then Mickelson won a pro tournament as an amateur. In the modern era, only Gene Littler, Doug Sanders and Scott Verplank have brought this off.
So, you can see why golf has been telling you this is the New Nicklaus, the Next Palmer, the messiah, the throwback to the monarchy years.
Then I went to see this pretender to the throne down here at the Infiniti Tournament of Champions at La Costa Spa and Resort.
I was shocked. This guy plays the game backward.
You’re amazed they let him get this far this way. He is — come closer — a left-hander!
He’s the only left-hander who has ever won the U.S. Amateur. But the only other left-hander who has won a major is New Zealander Bob Charles, who grabbed the 1963 British Open in a playoff.
Golf is tough enough without playing it backward.
Now, I don’t know about you, but my teachers used to whack me across the knuckles if I wrote or ate with my left hand. It’s been considered bad luck or bad form since time immemorial.
It’s nonsensical, I admit, but remember the word sinister comes from the Latin word for left-handed. (The word dexterous comes from the Latin word for right-handed — dexter — which gives you an idea what the ancients thought of southpaws: They were cursed.)
It is the notion of your correspondent that fully 50 percent of the world population is left-handed. Some have been bullied out of it, others have bowed to custom.
But golf has been as inhospitable to left-handers as a medieval soothsayer. It all but outlaws them, excommunicates them. Would you believe Ben Hogan, no less, was left-handed?
You couldn’t get left-handed clubs hardly anywhere then, and particularly not if you were dirt-poor and caddying in Texas. Ben had to change over. Golf had no accommodation for left-handers. Change or get a job on a truck.
Baseball has always been receptive to lefties. The bats were ambidextrous — there’s that word again — and the grand old game was replete with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Ted Williams — all great left-handers. Left-handed pitchers, more often than not, threw harder than righties. Tennis was slow to get on the bandwagon, but left-handers from McEnroe to Martina have sprung up all over the ad courts.
So, you might say Phil Mickelson is an advance party for a rash of left-handed players and the toast of the Left-handers of America.
Except, Phil Mickelson isn’t a left-hander!
It’s a perfectly astonishing story. The only thing Phil Mickelson does left-handed is play golf. Otherwise, he’s as orthodox as a bishop. He eats, writes, scratches and dials phones with his right hand.
It all happened when he was either 1-1/2 or 2 years old. His father was demonstrating the proper way to swing a golf club, and it was as if his young son were standing in front of a mirror. He did exactly what he saw his father do, swing the club from left to right.
By the time his father realized what he had done, it was too late. His son had gotten comfortable over the ball swinging in reverse.
It’s interesting that circumstances forced a natural left-hander such as
Hogan to strike the ball right-handed — and he became almost the premier striker of the ball in history. Accident turned Mickelson into a left-hander — and he bids fair to become one of the premier strikers of the ball of his generation.
Whatever the genesis, Mickelson’s success is sure to set off a boom in lefty golf. There must be some golfing Cobbs, Stan the Mans, even Babe Ruths out there waiting to hit the ball naturally from the port side.
Mickelson departs from the stereotype in another particular.
Left-handers, as a class, are supposed to be so flaky you could put bananas and cream on them.
To be sure, Phil passed up the $180,000 he won for taking the Tucson Open last year. For remaining amateur, he couldn’t collect. But his reasons are as sound as a banker’s. He wants to stay in college. He wants a career to fall back on when the putts stop dropping. He figures that without competitive golf in college, his attitude — and his aptitude — will atrophy. To play college golf, he needs to remain amateur. To play pro golf, he would have to leave college.
Bobby Jones remained amateur all his life. Jack Nicklaus, believe it or not, seriously considered it.
But that was back when a U.S. Open victory paid $3,500 or $5,000, and the total purse money for the year was like $820,000. Now it’s $48 million.
Mickelson will turn pro. He won’t say when for the record.
But he’ll never turn right-handed. He’ll continue shifting his weight to the right at address with the Vees pointing to his right shoulder.
He sees no reason he should have changed, no reason he can’t be a major success. There’s only one other left-hander on tour right now, Russ
Cochran, but if Mickelson starts adorning magazine covers, it should be like the spring breakup on the Yukon.
Mickelson sees no problem with being left-handed. Doglegs go both ways on golf courses. Putts don’t care which side the golfer stands on.
With a U.S. Amateur under his belt, Mickelson joins an august list on the tour — Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Lanny Wadkins, Mark
O’Meara, Craig Stadler. Mickelson doesn’t worry about which side of the ball he stands on at address. He worries about which side he’s standing on after he hits it. He would like to be directly behind it. He usually is. He has a chance not only to be the greatest left-hander in history, but one of the greatest players in history. And the game sees nothing sinister in that.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116
What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation?
The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.
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A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.
Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole. An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.
Proceeds from book sales will benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization providing sports journalism scholarships at universities across the country.