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Mickelson Didn’t Let Trouble Get to Him

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There was no way of telling from the expression on Phil Mickelson’s face that he had a brush with disaster.

Minutes after a three-hole stumble Friday that almost knocked him out of the Shearson Lehman Brothers Open at Torrey Pines, San Diego’s amateur golf sensation sat smiling at a table near the 18th green and signed autograph after autograph. Although he plays golf left-handed, he is naturally right-handed, and writes that way.

A woman asking for Mickelson’s autograph asked him, “How do you like all this fame?”

Mickelson chuckled and said, “I don’t know if I’d call it fame.”

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But the autograph seeker used the right word, and without acknowledging he had achieved fame at age 20, Mickelson was showing he already knew how to deal with it.

What happened to Mickelson on the back nine of the South course would have shaken many a veteran professional. After completing 13 holes at eight under par, he ran into a buzz saw. First came a double bogey, then two bogeys, and suddenly he was on the verge of missing the cut.

But instead of folding, Mickelson put his game back together and finished with two pars, exactly what he needed to qualify for the last 36 holes. His round of 74, coupled with his 66 Thursday, gave him a halfway total of 140.

Fred Couples, an 11-year pro who along with Tom Purtzer played in a threesome with Mickelson, was impressed by the way the Arizona State student dealt with adversity.

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“It didn’t faze him at all,” Couples said. “There’s no reason to blow up, throw your clubs and act like an idiot. I’ve done it, but he’s not that type of person.”

Couples’ testimony was corroborated by Mickelson’s caddy, Tana Figueras, who has been his girlfriend dating to their days at University of San Diego High School.

“He was OK,” Figueras said. “He just needed to get back in the game. He never loses it. He’s always positive. He just enjoys being out here. Playing badly is something you have to live with, just like playing well. He’ll come back tomorrow.”

Mickelson’s mother, Mary, also took his costly skid in stride.

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“Everybody goes through that,” Mary Mickelson said. “It was a difficult time, but he has two more days here, and I’m sure he learned from today’s experience.”

Mickelson’s troubles began when his tee shot on the 14th hole sliced left, went into a canyon and lodged in a thick cluster of ice plant.

“I don’t really like that drive on 14,” he said. “I’ve been to the left every time I play the hole. It’s stupid to think that way, because the hole isn’t that tough, but I’ve got a mental block about it.

“If I had hit a good drive, I would have looked harder for the ball, but I could see it would have been a real bad lie. I figured I’d go with a new ball and go on from there.”

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Mickelson settled for a double-bogey six.

Of the two bogeys that followed, Mickelson said, “On 15, I tried to be too cute and went into a bunker. There wasn’t much sand in it, and I half blasted it and hit it over the green. On 16, I chipped six feet below the hole and missed the putt.”

Was there any explanation for Mickelson’s sudden lapse?

“I think I fell asleep,” he said. “I just wasn’t focused, and I don’t know why not. I was eight-under and on the leader board, and three holes later I was worried about making the cut.

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“You can’t have a bad hole out here or these guys will eat you up. They’re that good.”

Mickelson won the U.S. Amateur championship last August, then shook things up on the PGA Tour by winning the Northern Telecom Open in Tucson last month. Now he is trying to become the first amateur to win two pro events in the same season.

Victory here was unlikely after Friday’s tribulations, but Mickelson didn’t seem devastated.

“The more I play and the more I go through,” he said, “the better prepared I’ll be.”

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Golf Notes

Only five of the 14 golfers with San Diego-area connections in the Shearson Lehman Brothers Open made the cut after Friday’s second round. Lon Hinkle led the local contingent at 136, shooting a 70 after a first-round 66. Lennie Clements qualified at l38 and John Cook, J.B. Sneve and amateur Phil Mickelson at 140.

Those who failed included Greg Twiggs, the 1989 winner; Craig Stadler, Mark O’Meara and Morris Hatalsky, all at 141; amateur Keith Sbarbaro, 143; Scott Mahlberg and amateur James Almand, 148; Chris Starkjohann, 151, and Tommy Jacobs, 152. Jacobs, who won the tournament in 1962, was playing in it for the first time in 15 years. He is now director of golf at Rancho Santa Fe Farms.

Among the others who missed the cut were Tom Watson, the winner here in 1977 and 1980, who shot 142; Jay Haas, Tim Simpson and Scott Verplank. Haas was the runner-up to Steve Pate in 1988.

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Jay Don Blake is two strokes off the pace at 134 after two rounds, and he owes the deficit to a habit of shooting badly on opening holes. He bogeyed No. 1 both days here after starting with a triple bogey in the AT&T; at Pebble Beach and a double bogey in the Bob Hope Classic. “I don’t know why,” Blake said. “It’s just been happening that way. But going from a triple bogey to a double to two singles, at least I’m getting better on my starts.”


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