Phil Mickelson escaped the chill embrace of a snowman in the desert and, with birdies on two of the last three holes, gained a little piece of golf history on Sunday.
In golfers’ parlance, a “snowman” is a score of eight on a hole. Mickelson built a snowman by hitting two shots into the Arizona-Sonora desert and one into a bunker on the 14th hole.
That dropped him from a one-stroke lead to three behind and a tie for fifth place in the Northern Telecom Open. It also sent the knowing away muttering about amateurs playing against seasoned professionals.
Then Mickelson, a 20-year-old junior at Arizona State who plays left-handed, got hot again, and the effects of the snowman melted, along with the leads of the professionals.
“I never thought I’d see anyone come back from something like that,” said Corey Pavin, who played with Mickelson in the final group on the TPC at Starpass.
Mickelson, who already has matched a Jack Nicklaus record by winning the U.S. Amateur and the NCAA championship in the same year, added this triumph with a closing 71 and a 272 total, 16 under par.
He became only the second amateur since Gene Littler won the San Diego Open in 1954 to win a PGA Tour event. The other was Scott Verplank in the 1985 Western Open.
The numbers hardly tell the entire tale, however.
Mickelson’s debacle from sand and scrub on the par-five 14th appeared to drop him out of contention and leave the struggle to Tom Purtzer, a 39-year-old veteran in his 17th season on the tour, and former PGA champion Bob Tway.
But Purtzer, playing well in front of Mickelson, blew the lead when he hit his approach into the front bunker on the 18th hole, failed to get it out and took a double bogey.
Moments later, Tway, playing the 17th, missed the green and failed on a 10-foot par-saving putt.
That dropped each of them back to 15 under par, tied for the lead and one in front of the amateur.
Mickelson, steady and composed, responded by lofting his approach within a foot of the flag on the 16th hole. The birdie put him back into a share of the lead.
With a fine sense of drama, the youngster made a routine par on the 17th and saved the clinching birdie for the final hole.
There, he hit his second shot about eight feet to the left of the pin and--it seemed almost inevitable--made the winning putt, hugged his coach-caddie Steve Loy and strolled into the howling gallery.
“I went from having the biggest knot in my stomach to the greatest joy in a half hour,” Mickelson said.
“He’s a special kid,” said Purtzer, who had closing 67 and tied Tway for second at 273.
“He’s a kid you’d like to have as a son or brother,” Purtzer said, then added, with a wry smile:
“I just want them to make sure he stays in school for two more years.”
And that’s his plan.
Mickelson said he intends to complete his degree in psychology in the spring of 1992 before turning pro.
“Money is not a problem,” said Mickelson, a native of San Diego. “I’m on a scholarship and my folks help me.”
Mickelson won the NCAA championship as a freshman in 1989, repeated last year and added the U.S. Amateur title.
When he does turn pro, he will have a 1 1/2-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a pass through the Tour Qualifying School and a “can’t-miss” label awaiting him.
Those are the rewards of his victory.
But the money went elsewhere. As an amateur, he could not accept the $180,000 first prize.
Tway, who had a final-round 68, and Purtzer split the first and second place checks, each pocketing $144,000 from the total purse of $1 million.
Craig Stadler was fourth alone at 70-275.
John Cook, Brian Tennyson, Jeff Maggert and David Peoples tied at 276. Cook shot 66. Tennyson and Maggert each had a 69. Peoples, once tied for the lead, had a 73 that included four consecutive back-nine bogeys.