It is funny how things can change.
In 2000, a few years before we had any children, my wife and I vacationed to Orlando. We weren’t visiting Disney World. We went saltwater flat fishing and attended the Bay Hill Invitational – now known as the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
A bad storm passed through the day before we went fishing so the saltwater flats became brackish water flats and we basically became tourists with fishing poles for a few hours. We saw some manatees, caught a sea trout or two and I accidentally hooked a blue crab.
When I joked that I went fishing in Florida and all I caught was crabs, the guide was unimpressed with my seemingly funny jokes.
We visited Universal Studios the next day and saw Phil Mickelson and his wife and, at the time, his only child.
We decided to go to the golf tournament on Thursday. We assumed the first day of competition would draw smaller crowds and give us better access. We were right. Several times during the day, we were within a few feet of golfers like Tiger Woods and Mickelson as they made their way around the course.
Mickelson didn’t have a great first round. Of course that was the first of four Bay Hill titles in a row for Woods. He has now won the event eight times.
But after the round, he disappeared. He never had anything to say to the gallery and his focus certainly sapped his likability.
Mickelson was the opposite. At the time, Mickelson was known as the best player not to win a major. He finished his day in the middle of the afternoon and went to the putting green to work some things out.
But before he left, he spent more than an hour signing autographs for fans.
We got in that line. At one point, my wife got a little desperate and edged her way in front of the fan-favorite.
She decided to make small talk while handing him my hat to sign. “Did you go to Universal Studios yesterday?” she asked him. When he said he had, she said, “Your wife is beautiful,” obviously catching his attention.
He agreed that she was and went ahead and signed my wife’s hat as well.
I was already a fan of the lefty. But that impressed me. He didn’t seem bothered by the fans. He was having a good time.
After Sunday’s incredible comeback to win the British Open, Mickelson is now the best player to win five majors and he has finished second in majors six times.
Page 2 of 2 - Many players alike were thrilled for Mickelson. If they couldn’t win it, they were just as happy that Mickelson had.
He is just as popular with his opponents as he is the fans.
That tells you something about the guy.
I fished my signed cap out of the closet. It seems wrong not to display it. After all, it is signed by a guy that has won five majors.
I hope to get back to another tournament where Mickelson is teeing it up one day and see how winning five majors has changed his outlook toward signing items for fans.
It can’t be the same as it was 13 years ago, but I would love another shot to walk a course alongside him.
Kent Bush is the publisher of the Augusta Gazette, the El Dorado Times, and the Andover American newspapers. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org