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Port In A Storm

Phil Mickelson's love affair with golf in Ireland.

Posted Apr 19, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

phil mickelson 2010 masters

With an emotional triumph for sweet Phil set against the return of the prodigal son, the 2010 Masters will probably live in the memory as proof that good guys really can finish first while much-publicised wrongdoing has to be expiated. Yet it may be no harm to remind ourselves that even the best sportspeople have flaws. And that Mickelson's behaviour once caused a diplomatic incident involving officials on both sides of the Atlantic.    
So, what was all the fuss about? Well, even those with no more than a passing interest in golf, may recall the hullabaloo which the then 21-year-old sparked off through a remark he made on the US sports network, ESPN, regarding the first day's play of the Walker Cup at Portmarnock in early September 1991.
Describing a particularly wayward drive into rough, during his 4 and 3 singles win over Scotland's Andrew Coltart, Mickelson said to an American interviewer: "That's not a place I wanted to be.  The Irish women are not that attractive." In other words, the opportunity of getting a close view of female spectators at the fairway ropes wouldn't compensate for being buried in rough.
Remarkably, it led to something of a diplomatic incident, with irate phone calls being made to the Irish Consulate in New York. They, in turn, got in touch with the headquarters of the US Golf Association in Far Hills, New Jersey, demanding an apology.  Which Mickelson was only too happy to provide, saying contritely: "I'm sorry.  It was meant in jest."
All of which lent a certain irony to his second major victory coming in New Jersey, in the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol. And in fairness, we must emphasise that the world's finest left-handed golfer has since been a good friend to Irish golf, especially down at Lahinch.
His Portmarnock exploits included hitting the green during practice at the famous, short 15th, playing both right-handed and left-handed.  But his piece de resistance came at the climax of his second singles win against the British and Irish number one, Jim Milligan.  With only a 15-minute break after he and Bob May had lost the last of the morning's foursomes by one hole to Paul McGinley and Liam White, Mickelson gave us a foretaste of the breathtaking skills which have now brought him four major professional titles.
From a bare lie off the back of Portmarnock's 18th green, he played the most exquisite, sandwedge pitch to within two feet of the hole to seal victory.  Seasoned observers were staggered by the quality of the shot, especially from one so young.  In the event, it paved the way for a 14-10 American triumph over a home side which also included Padraig Harrington.
As part of their preparation for the matches, the US team acclimatised on the ancient links terrain of Lahinch, before travelling up to Dublin. And the Clare club were very pleasantly surprised to learn almost three years later, that on being asked by an American magazine to name his favourite parkland and links courses, Mickelson chose Augusta National and Lahinch.
Their response was to make him an honorary overseas life member.  In accepting the distinction, he wrote a warm letter to the captain saying: "Some of my fondest memories of great golfing holes in the world, include the number four and five holes at Lahinch."           
In July 2001, he was back at Lahinch in a group of seven.  And before he, his long-time caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay, his father, Phil Snr and Mark Calcavecchia teed off in a fourball,  a point was made of having the new, short eighth hole in play, so that Mickelson would be the first to hit a shot to it.
So it was that after using his range-finder, he found the heart of the green with a seven-iron of 173 yards.  "I had told Christy O'Connor Jnr that Phil was coming, but he and his wife Ann were already heading for Spain on holiday," said the then club secretary, Alan Reardon.  "After Phil had played the eighth, however, I took out my mobile phone, contrary to all the rules of the club, dialled Christy's mobile and handed the phone to him.  And they talked, while Phil was standing on the ninth tee and Junior was in the departure lounge at Shannon Airport."  
Later that day, on returning to the clubhouse, there was the overdue ceremony of presenting Mickelson with a club blazer.   Four years further on, in a poll conducted after the 2005 Open at St Andrews, Mickelson included two Lahinch holes - which are now the third and fourth (Klondyke) - among his three favourite links holes in these islands. So, whatever his trangressions at the Walker Cup, it could be said that Irish golf was compensated in full.

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