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Mickelson’s Public Relations Serve Purpose

Times Staff Writer

As he made his way around Baltusrol Golf Club on the path he took to win the PGA Championship, Phil Mickelson playfully bumped knuckles with fans, shook their hands, tipped his cap, smiled at adoring galleries, signed autographs, got slapped on the back and enjoyed the full-on, big-time star treatment.

Now, being a fan favorite is a nice bonus, but as the ultimate proof of success, it probably can’t compare to playing the 554-yard par-five 18th in a combined five under, or making 16 birdies for the week or having only one three-putt green.

Or can it?

Why Mickelson was so welcomed last week in New Jersey, much like he was treated at Bethpage for the 2002 U.S. Open, is one of the after-stories of the PGA Championship that should not be overlooked.

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On the surface, it seems to be an incongruous relationship -- gruff, no-nonsense, blue-collar East Coast fans going overboard for a laid-back, private-jet-flying, country club grad from Southern California.

Fans constantly yelled encouragement at him. Some insisted he run for governor. Others invited him over for beers. And it seemed that almost every time his golf ball headed for the green, the same three words were heard: “In the hole!”

Two factors were apparently at work. Mickelson had somehow maintained his reputation as an underdog, which is what winning one major title after 49 previous chances does for you.

Even more important, New Yorkers and East Coast fans in general seem to believe professional golf to be a contact sport and no one was more generous in sharing his experience with the fans -- hand-slapping, knuckle-bumping and all -- even while he was in the middle of his round on the golf course.

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Mickelson’s hands-on behavior with the gallery stood out, and in tournaments where margin of victory is small, who’s to say it didn’t make the difference?

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Anybody want to take on Mickelson? In a deal worked out before he won at Baltusrol, Mickelson plus his short-game guru Dave Pelz and swing coach Rick Smith have signed a deal with Teknik Digital Arts for a mobile golf game called “Phil Mickelson 2005" and an instructional series called ‘TIPS’ that can be played on cellphones. The latter is designed to allow golfers to take lessons on their phone while at the practice range -- or wherever.

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Now that Mickelson has won four times this year on the PGA Tour -- matching Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh in number of victories, it’s only the third time in the last 25 years that three players have won at least that many. The other occasions were in 1982 -- Craig Stadler, Tom Watson and Calvin Peete -- and in 2003 -- Woods, Singh and Davis Love III.

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When it rains ... CBS hardly got washed out in the Nielsen ratings for Sunday’s weather-shortened final round PGA Championship coverage at Baltusrol -- a 5.6, which represents a 27.2% increase over last year’s 4.4 at Whistling Straits.

The final numbers from Saturday’s coverage was 4.0, up 42.9% from last year’s 2.8. The two-day average was 4.8, a 33.8% increase over last year’s 3.6.

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And TNT didn’t fare badly. Its Saturday and Sunday broadcasts posted a 2.2 cable rating, up 47% over last year’s 1.5.

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Fortune Magazine, in its Aug. 22 issue, lists its choices for the most influential African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans. The list includes Magic Johnson (in the “Entrepreneur” section), Peter Bynoe, who is Michael Jordan’s attorney (in “Dealmakers”), Angel owner Arte Moreno (under “In the Hot Seat”) and, of course, Michelle Wie (under “People to Watch”).

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Casey Martin is one of four who accepted sponsor’s exemptions into the $475,000 Mark Christopher Charity Classic on the Nationwide Tour, Sept. 15-18, at Empire Lakes Golf Course in Rancho Cucamonga.

Steve Pate, Dave Stockton Jr., and musician Kenny G also received sponsor’s exemptions.

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The Nationwide Tour announced this week that it was adding a new event for 2006, the $600,000 Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship. It will be played at Wente Vineyards, a course designed by Greg Norman, who also makes his own brand of wine, thus possibly elevating the competition to another level.

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There’s a new, slick golf publication called Golf Connoisseur, with a photograph of Michael Caine on the cover of the debut issue, holding a glass of wine and smiling. In the story, Caine said he never had time to learn to play golf. Maybe they thought they were interviewing Michael Campbell.

By the way, Campbell had only one top-10 finish in a major before this year, and that was 10 years ago when he tied for third at the British Open. But now he has three in a row -- he won the U.S. Open, tied for fifth at British Open and tied for sixth at the PGA Championship.

Campbell began the year ranked 82nd and is now ranked 19th.

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Tim Hogarth of Northridge, the 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, the 1999 California Amateur champion and the 2004 Southern California Golf Assn. Amateur champion, leads a group of 25 from Southern California who will compete in the 105th U.S. Amateur Championship that begins Monday at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.

Anthony Kim of La Quinta and the University of Oklahoma -- a member of last week’s Walker Cup-winning U.S. team -- and Michael Putman of Tacoma and Pepperdine University -- who was Kim’s Walker Cup teammate -- also will compete.

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The Champions Tour’s SBC Classic at Valencia Country Club donated $110,000 to the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation.

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This week

WORLD GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS

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NEC Invitational

* When: Today-Sunday.

* Where: Firestone Country Club, South Course (7,283 yards, par 70); Akron, Ohio.

* Purse: $7.5 million. Winner’s share: $1.35 million.

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* TV: ESPN (today-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.) and Channel 2 (Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.).

* 2004 winner: Stewart Cink.

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LPGA TOUR

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Safeway Classic

* When: Friday-Sunday.

* Where: Columbia Edgewater Country Club (6,327 yards, par 72); Portland, Ore.

* Purse: $1.4 million. Winner’s share: $210,000.

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* TV: Golf Channel (Friday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m.).

* 2004 winner: Hee-Won Han.

* Next week: Wendy’s Championship for Children in Dublin, Ohio.

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PGA TOUR

Reno-Tahoe Open

* When: Today-Sunday.

* Where: Montreux Golf and Country Club (7,472 yards, par 72), Reno.

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* Purse: $3 million. Winner’s share: $540,000.

* TV: Golf Channel (today-Sunday, 6-8:30 p.m.).

* 2004 winner: Vaughn Taylor.

* Next week: Buick Championship in Cromwell, Conn.

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CHAMPIONS TOUR

Boeing Greater Seattle Classic

* When: Friday-Sunday.

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* Where: TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge (7,120 yards, par 72), Washington.

* Purse: $1.6 million. Winner’s share: $240,500.

* TV: Golf Channel (Friday-Sunday, 3-5:30 p.m.).

* 2004 winner: Inaugural tournament.

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* Next week: JELD-WEN Tradition at the Reserve Vineyards in Aloha, Ore.


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