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Golfer Wasn’t Left Out With the Right Swing

The first time Phil Mickelson picked up a golf club, he was 1 1/2, so he didn’t know his left from his right. That made his swing what it is today.

His father, who had a putting green and chipping area in the back yard of the family’s Del Cerro home, gave him a driver to play with after he cut off the shaft, taking most of the weight off the head and slicing it in half.

“I had really no idea what I was doing, so I was hitting the ball backward, left-handed,” said Mickelson, who is now the nation’s top-ranked junior golfer. “It seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess.”

His father agreed. Instead of changing his son’s style, he fixed the club to suit a left-handed golfer.

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“If you swing left-handed, that means you’re using the right side of your body more,” said Mickelson, who is one of the favorites in this week’s 15-17 age division of the Junior World Golf Championships at Torrey Pines. “Since I’m naturally right-handed, that means I’m already using my stronger side. Ninety percent of all golfers have to build up the strength on their left side. I never had to do that.”

Mickelson, who has had his own set of clubs since he was 7, won one Junior World title when he was 10.

Last year in the Junior World tournament, Mickelson was four under par but finished 11 strokes behind the leader. Carito Villaroman of the Philippines set the tournament record at 15-under.

“This year’s tournament is definitely a big one for me,” said Mickelson, who will be a senior this fall at the University of San Diego High School. “If you think about it, it would mean you’re No. 1 in the world.”

After last summer’s Junior World, Mickelson won three junior tournaments and finished second in four others. With that, he took over the country’s top ranking.

“Since then, I’ve had to be careful not to let down,” Mickelson said. “You get a tendency to think you’re the greatest and you don’t have to work real hard. Every time I take it easy, though, I have a bad round. I’ve learned my lesson.”

Mickelson plays golf almost every day. If he’s not playing, chances are he’s working on some facet of his game. But golf is not his only interest.

For Mickelson, a day on the ski slopes can be as inviting as a day on a golf course.

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“My father almost qualified for the ski team in the Olympics one time,” he said. “We get to go sometimes and he’s always giving me tips and stuff. I think I love skiing as much as anything.

“I always know I can play a lot of golf. And, of course, I love playing. But I know there are other things out there I can do, and I like to take time to appreciate those things.”

Mickelson credits his father for his outlook on sports. Even though this week’s tournament is in San Diego, Phil Sr. won’t be following his son’s progress from hole to hole.

“He’s never wanted it to seem like he’s been pushing me,” Mickelson said. “It’s really great in a way. Sometimes I want him there and he’ll come. Other times, he’ll just let me do it.”

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When Mickelson was 7, his father said he’d buy him a set of clubs for placing in a local 10-and under tournament. Mickelson won the tournament . . . and received a used set of women’s left-handed clubs.

After winning the Junior World in 1980, he placed second in Junior World events in 1984 and last year.

This year, he’s going after the title.

“All the tournaments are nice, but this one is special,” said Mickelson, who won a junior’s tournament in Toledo, Ohio, last week.

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Now, he’s home for a week--"Five days in a row, a world record"--but beginning next week, he’ll play tournaments in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Montana.

His mother, Mary, helps make the travel arrangements.

“She books my flights and arranges what tournaments I’m going to play in,” he said. “She even took a job to help pay for my travel, as long as I keep my grades up. I couldn’t possibly thank her enough for all she’s done.”

After completing his summer tour, Mickelson will return to San Diego for his senior year at USDHS where he’s the star of the golf team.

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A senior season will provide Mickelson one last chance to win a tournament that has eluded him--the San Diego Section championship. Mickelson has finished second to Harry Rudolph of La Jolla each of the last two years.

“I’ve had some bad luck in the San Diego Section tournaments,” Mickelson said. “But, what the heck, as long I learn something every time it’s not that big a deal. I’d like to win it, but there are other things.”


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