August 16, 2002
by Bill Hogan
I hate the expression "best player never to win a major". The overused cliché reeks of undue criticism.
You never hear somebody
referred to as "the best actor never to win an Oscar" or "the
best writer never to win a Pulitzer". Why do sportswriters find it
necessary to tag Phil Mickelson with such an insulting moniker?
And why do these same sportswriters continue to bombard Mickelson with question after question about his major tournament losing streak (currently at 41)? Somebody should inform these guys that it isn't easy to win a major – especially with Tiger in the field.
There's a reason the PGA uses the slogan "These Guys Are Good" in their television commercials. Because they are. All of the players on tour are good. Mickelson – the second ranked player in the world - happens to be one of the best. Whether or not he ever wins a major.
And if he does win the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National this weekend, does that feat make him better than he is already? Bob Tway won the PGA in 1986; Jeff Sluman won it in 1988 and Mark Brooks in '96. They're all part of the "These Guys Are Good" crowd but none are better golfers than Phil Mickelson.
I guess when you're the second best golfer in the world and haven't won a major title you become easy prey for sportswriters. But some of the commentary boarders on the ridiculous.
On one internet sports site, a writer claimed Phil Mickelson's golf career is comparable to Anna Kournikova's tennis 'career'. Now I like to squeeze Anna K. into a sports column as much as the next guy, but this analogy is just absurd.
A Mickelson-Kournikova comparison begins and ends with the fact that both have noticeable breasts. (An unsightly feature in Phil's case).
Mickelson has twenty-one professional tour victories and is always one of the favorites at the majors. Kournikova has no tennis wins and is never considered a front-runner in any of tennis' majors.
Phil has amassed over 16 million dollars in career earnings since joining the tour in 1992. Anna makes her money from internet stock options and sports bra billboards. How in the world can any knowledgeable sportswriter call Phil Mickelson "the Anna Kournikova of the PGA Tour"?
Another online sportswriter attributes Mickelson's major disappointments to the fact that Lefty never swears on the course. How the %$#@! does acting like a %$#@! drunken sailor give you a better chance at winning the PGA Championship? That's %$#@! bull %$#@!.
Take it from somebody who's been spewing four-letter words at that tiny, white, dimpled ball for years: it doesn't help. All it gets you is a dirty look from the course Marshall.
The article implies that he's not as successful as he could be because he smiles too much. And that he doesn't demonstrate the kind of grit and determination required to win a major.
Somebody needs to enlighten this writer. Phil smiles because he is a young millionaire who plays golf for a living. He smiles because there is still plenty of time to collect his share of championship trophies. And he smiles because his wife is a hottie.
There isn't a single sportswriter in this country that wouldn't trade places with Phil Mickelson in a heartbeat.
Not to mention the many professional golfers that would love to be in his golf shoes.
I wonder why, when Jim Kelly was introduced at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, nobody mentioned that he is one of the "best quarterbacks never to win a Super Bowl".
Sift through the many tributes written after the death of Ted Williams and you'll find that not one described the Splendid Splinter as "the best baseball player never to win a World Series".
So why is Mickelson constantly criticized for what he has not yet accomplished on the golf course?
I don't think that golf fans share the sportswriter's major obsession with Mickelson. They root for Lefty to win because he is a great golfer whose shot-making ability is exciting to watch. And they like Lefty because – well – he's a very likable guy (and he doesn't curse on the golf course).
I hope Phil Mickelson wins the PGA Championship this week. Then the sportswriters can get back to calling Colin Montgomerie "the best golfer never to win a major".
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