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McCollum's Column: Mickelson: Great golfer, great person, greater Dad

Posted: June 15, 2013 - 8:07pm

Throngs of folks, all ages, jockeyed for position along a fenced-off area outside clubhouse at TPC Southwind, site of the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis.

The hero emerged to shouts and applause.

“Hey, Phil, we love you!”

The phrase, “Phil, thanks for coming,” was repeated about a dozen times as fans lined for autographs after a round of the golf tourney at Memphis.

For more than 20 minutes ­— as tournament officials scanned the audience for banned cameras and recording equipment like Secret Service agents looking for weapons — Phil Mickelson signed everything and did it with a smile and “thank you,” soft-spoken with the graceful touch of a delicate lob wedge.

He signed programs, pennants, T-shirts, shirts, caps, golf balls. badges, gloves, anything reasonable.

Patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, major beneficiary of the tournament, were stationed at the front of the line. He smiled as he signed their bibs, caps and other items.

It’s one of the reasons folks in Memphis love Mickelson.

He’s perhaps the most beloved of active golfers.

He’s a big supporter of St. Jude. Shortly after his wife, Amy, underwent treatment and therapy for breast cancer, he came to Memphis a few years ago to help give the tournamen (then without a longterm presenting sponsor) a name golfer and help keep it vibrant.

He also felt a special kinship with the sick children at St. Jude.

One female, emerged from the scrum last week, smiling and carrying a St. Louis Cardinals ballcap and handed it to her husband, pointing to the autograph. “Happy early Father’s Day. ”The man smiled, gain a special double — Cardinals and Mickelson on the same piece of clothing.

Mickelson might have signed something for everyone had not officials mentioned he probably needed to move on.

He bounded up the steps to a private area of the clubhouse. He left with a wave and loud applause and cheers.

While his golf game can get strange at times, his popularity with golf fans is straight down the middle, no rough.

Here’s one reason why.

Mickelson played in the Memphis tournament a week before the U.S. Open near Philadelphia. No golfer has won the Oopen after playing in a PGA tournament the week before.

Tuesday was a scheduled practice round for the Open, which is held on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Mickelson skipped the practice round, flew cross country to San Diego, got in a quick practice round, then attended the eighth-grade graduation ceremony Wednesday night for his daughter, Amanda, who gave a speech. He promised.

He took a red-eye flight back to Pennsylvania and arrived at 3:15 a.m. (CDT) Thursday.

He had two hours’ sleep. The practice range at Merion is a mile away from the course.

He made his tee time with not a whole lot of minutes to spare.

He shot a 67 to finish the first round at the top of the leaderboard. He still is.

Mickelson might not win the U.S. Open.

But before he hit his first shot off the tee, he won Father’s Day.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at david.mccollum@thecabin.net or 501-505-1235)

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