Phil Mickelson – Leadership Traits Term Paper

Table of Contents

I. Introduction 2

II. Junior Golf 2

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III. 1991 Northern Telecom Open 4

IV. 2004 Masters 5

V. 2006 U.S. Open 7

VI. Tough Times Ahead 8

VII. Conclusion 10

VIII. References 11

Phil Mickelson, also known as Lefty, is easily the second best golfer of his generation and almost unanimously thought of as the best left-handed golfer ever. Through hard work, dedication, and a true love for the game, Mickelson has been a true superstar and serves as a great ambassador for the game of golf. Even with all the physical talent and playing abilities, Phil would never have risen to his current stature without other key attributes; most of these attributes fall under leadership traits. Throughout the documented life of Lefty, from when he was a toddler to now being debated as the best American golfer alive, he has displayed a wide array of leadership traits in both difficult situations as well as moments of jubilation. With tenacity, humility, perseverance, compassion, and a host of others, Phil Mickelson has become a world class golfer, respected family man, inspiring role model, and a leader amongst men.

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Mickelson’s childhood started with a golf club in hand before the age of 2. From this very young age it is said that he was passionate for the game and always wanted to be swinging, practicing, or playing. Born a natural “righty”, Phil developed a left-handed golf swing because he would stand opposite his father and mirror his actions. (Phil-Fanatics, 2011) Just a few years later Mickelson was so determined to get to the golf course, he told neighbors he was running away from home and going to the local course. By the age of 9, after witnessing another great of the game Seve Ballesteros win the Masters in 1980, Phil had his eyes set on doing the same. Throughout his junior-golf career, he won 34 San Diego County titles and eventually earned himself a full golf scholarship to Arizona State University.

In Phil’s early age, even when just a tiny toddler who first held a club, he was already displaying characteristics that are associated with being a leader. At the time, Mickelson was most certainly not aware of these traits but he was being himself which makes it all the more valid. The desire and hunger at the age of 2 and 3 to do something with such certainty is not common. Often times children will want a toy and either get bored and move on, or if the parent chooses to take the toy away, can easily distract them using a new affection. This was not the case with Phil as he seemed hell bent on playing golf. As years passed and Phil began to learn and play golf left-handed as a natural born right-handed person, this shows his determination and focus. For those who have golfed, swung a baseball bat, or shot a basketball, doing so with your non-dominant hand can be a very difficult and embarrassing thing to do. Granted Mickelson started at such an early age that maybe he had not created a significant gap in hand-eye coordination between the two sides, but nevertheless, the ability to program his brain into making such a finicky motion look effortless while being effective is a tribute to his dedication.

As a junior golfer, Mickelson dominated the scene of Southern California, more specifically San Diego County. As a young boy he had dreams of winnings the Masters which shows his vision, imagination, and will to succeed. Playing great golf is something that a very good player can do, fairly frequently, but that does not necessarily yield wins. There is something that skill alone cannot atone for and that intangible factor is often referred to as heart, resiliency, or more simply a will to win. As a junior golfer, winning 34 titles, Lefty exemplifies these adjectives by performing at such a level above his peers, and at such a young age no less. As seen in other sports, the young or inexperienced don’t often dominate in their respective arena until numerous amounts of attempts. To dominate the stages when he did at such a young age is remarkable. It would not be hard to imagine many different winners throughout the years because juniors are more likely to have roller-coaster like success but Mickelson stayed dominant and this cannot be fully explained without discussing his determination, focus, and will to win. Winning is exactly what he did as a young boy, and continued to do so at the next level.

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Fast forwarding to January 1991, a 20 year old Mickelson had already won two NCAA championships with Arizona State University and was playing in the Northern Telecom Open as an amateur. Winning on the PGA Tour as an amateur has happened a handful of times, and only twice in the last 40 years; so Phil did not have history on his side. On Sunday, teeing off on the 14th hole, Lefty had the lead but after walking off the green carding a triple bogey, he was now three shots back with only four holes to play. On those four holes, Phil came in 2-under and as a result wins the tournament by one stroke over Tom Purtzer and Bob Tway, seasoned veterans. After his victory Mickelson remained an amateur and was in no rush to turn professional, even with the temptations that are present when winning on such a big stage at a very early age.
When trying to comprehend how significant this accomplishment for Phil was, it helps to think about other greats and use for comparison. At the time, Tom Kite was the all-time money winner in PGA history; he did not record his first Tour victory until his fifth year as a professional. There are lifelong pros who may never win a tournament or at most one or two events, but here was a 20 year old kid defeating them, and in dramatic fashion to say the least. It wasn’t a cakewalk in which the field fell back and Mickelson was playing lights out, he struggled and faced adversity after that triple bogey on 14 and he remained focused on the task at hand. This takes poise, composure, and again a will to win. “I felt I’d let it get away. I felt it was over, But I remembered my dad telling me you never know what’s going to happen in golf, that you should just keep playing hard”(LA Times, 1991) Mickelson said after the round. Believing in this quote, thinking these things when in a moment of great stress, and ultimately the ability to execute the necessary shots is why this tournament is a perfect example of the leadership traits mentioned above. Without composure, it’d be easy to imagine a young hot shot golfer getting hot under the collar, feel an emotional letdown, and let his game unravel during the closing holes. Rather than succumb to the pressure and recent blunder, his will to win and self-confidence carried him to an historic victory. To this day no amateur has won the PGA Tour and despite numerous talented amateurs, with consummate professionals like Phil Mickelson on the Tour, it may be quite some time until another amateur can win again.

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Augusta National is the place, 2004 the year, and the year’s first major tournament was unfolding. Entering the final round Mickelson held his first ever 54-hole lead in a major which was extremely significant since he was winless in majors for the first 12 years of his career which included over forty chances. Often touted as the best player to never have won a major, Phil was being labeled as a choker, not clutch, and afraid of the big stage. This was inconsistent with how highly regarded Mickelson was in the earlier stages of his golfing career and it was only a matter of time before he got the proverbial “monkey off his back” and broke through. Similar to his win as an amateur in 1991, Mickelson had to come from behind in dramatic fashion. Trailing by just a few shots to Ernie Els, Mickelson had to make a surge on the back nine on Sunday. Playing a different type of game, one more conservative than his gunslinger tendencies, he was able to navigate the extremely difficult terrain of August National and record a final nine total of 31. A 31 on any stretch of nine is amazing, to do so at Augusta is unheard of, and to achieve it on Sunday at the Masters is impossible. Tied with the clubhouse leader, Els, waking to the 18th green, Phil had an 18-foot testy downhill slider for birdie and history. When the putt fell into the hole Mickelson had established himself as a champion and would no longer have to receive the backhanded compliment of best player never to have won a major.
Obviously, focus, heart, and determination were instrumental in this victory, but a new trait emerged with this win. Mickelson demonstrated control by fighting the urge to be overly aggressive, and instead played a much smarter game. This was such a sharp contrast to his previous years on tour that it was a noticeable change for spectators somewhat familiar with Lefty’s game. This change exemplifies Phil’s ability to learn, adapt, and implement changes in him and his golf game. Whether it was because of self-evaluation or someone lending words of wisdom, Mickelson did not continue with the same strategy that led to zero major wins. Instead he revamped his game, learned a new shot shape (the soft fade), and trusted in his abilities when he needed it most on Sunday. This is a trait some very good leaders are missing that prevents them from rising up to very great leaders. The ability to acknowledge fault or errors is crucial in an evolving arena such as golf. Mickelson knows he has the physical talent to bomb drives and fire at pins, then recover with miraculous chip shots, but what’s more impressive is the mental strength he displayed by not doing those things when they weren’t the best decision. A sign of a great leader is not having all the tools to succeed, but knowing when to use them.

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When it comes to the USGA’s U.S. Open, the toughest tournament of every year, Phil Mickelson is always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Owner of five runner-up finishes (current through 2011), Phil’s best chance to capture this elusive major championship was in 2006 at Winged Foot. Playing marvelous golf and winner of the two most recent majors (2005 PGA Championship and the 2006 Masters), Mickelson held a two shot lead with three holes to play. After playing 16 and 17 at 1-over, Mickelson prepared to tee off on the final hole with a one shot lead over Geoff Ogilvy (who was already in the clubhouse). The situation was a 450-yard par 4 which with a good 3-wood would be easily reachable in regulation. Lacking confidence in his fairway metal, Phil elected to go with driver which he proceeded to push slice far left and off a tent. Aware of the situation that bogey still gets an 18-hole playoff the following day, Mickelson elected to try and reach the green from within the forests calling on a miraculous cut 3-iron. After caroming off a tree, Mickelson went on to play for another miracle cut shot, this time leaving himself a terrible lie in a greenside bunker. Once the implosion was complete and the wreckage was absolute, Mickelson lay below the rubble with a double-bogey. Geoff Ogilvy was gifted the 2006 U.S. Open by a combination of poor decisions which also resulted in Mickelson being labeled a “choke” once again.
After such an epic meltdown over the last three holes, and most certainly the last Mickelson displayed something that is often overlooked when analyzing great athletes. Often time’s fans want to immortalize their favorite players and put them on a pedestal of perfection. From a very young age, people are taught that nobody is perfect and that rule holds true even for the most adored sports figures. Failing to win every time is hardly a knock on a person’s abilities but doing so in the fashion with which Mickelson lost this U.S. Open, it goes further than someone not being perfect. Having looked at Phil’s career from his junior days through college and finally earning his first major title, he has consistently showed grit, focus, and intelligence. So what went so wrong at Winged Foot? Phil did not make wise decisions, did not present the extreme desire to win the tournament, and most certainly did not execute to his talent level. Having demonstrated these traits in the past, we know that he possesses them and what’s most important to take away from this tournament is that they are not constant and by no means guaranteed. Lapses happen and it did so most evident on the final hole. The “choke” job known as 2006 Winged Foot shows that no matter the prior success and previous displays of brilliance, no one is perfect. However, once in the press room and being interviewed by the media, Mickelson displayed a new trait that is missing in a lot of today’s athletes; humility. In a time where Phil is understandably frustrated and embarrassed, he managed to go to the press conference and do it with dignity. Admitting he was an “idiot”, although obvious to everyone watching, takes a lot of courage and opening up to the public. The ability to admit one made such a crucial error and the most inopportune time shows that Phil does not feel he’s bigger than the game, too good to make mistakes, and humble enough to admit when he messed up.

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Before 2009 all of Mickelson’s public troubles related to his golf game and how it had a tendency to collapse at crucial moments of tournaments. After May 2009, Phil had wished that these were the worst of his worries when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Naturally Phil was devastated and hit with worry and sadness and suspended his playing on the Tour indefinitely. A few months later Phil was struck with more bad news as his mother was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Facing a difficult family ordeal it is understandable that Phil completed 2009 with a lackluster finish as his priorities were with his family. Often skipping tournaments he would normally play and forgoing practice so that he could take care of his wife and mom, Phil did not win until the spring of 2010. It was worth the wait as both the women in his life are recovering from successful treatments; Phil went on to win the green jacket at the Masters. Amy, Phil’s wife, was at her first tournament since being diagnosed with breast cancer and she was most present on the final hole as Mickelson capped off an amazing weekend to capture his fourth career major championship.
It is debatable whether or not the 2004 Masters victory or the 2010 Masters victory was more impressive, but the latter seems to have meant the most to the Mickelson family. The touching moment with Phil and Amy after the final putt was rolled was a priceless moment and showed Lefty’s true colors: a family man first who plays golf for a living. To continue on with daily life after having two people in his life dealing with cancer and the emotional toll that comes with it is amazing in and of itself but to do so while being a professional athlete and winning such a prestigious event is unimaginable. The list of leadership traits Mickelson displayed during the 2010 Masters is a mile long. To block out the stress of his personal troubles Phil had to show courage and focus. To battle such a difficult golf course and come out on top took talent, determination, and intelligence. To close out the final nine in brilliant fashion knowing that his wife was waiting for him took composure and a will to win. To have gone nearly a year where his wife’s and mother’s health came before all else showed his compassion and family values. And after the tournament was won, to say that the victory meant so much to him because of his family, friends, and all the fans that supported the Mickelsons, Phil once again showed his humility. Some may argue which tournament was the greatest victory and use score or playing results as a measure. Based on all the attributes Phil needed to pull this one out, having his wife greenside at Augusta is the greatest victory he’s led his family to.

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Phil understands that part of being a great athlete, a public figure serving as a role model, and a good human being takes more than winning golf tournaments. It’s having all these traits to build up your character so that in the toughest of times, these are what you can draw upon. Leadership is defined as being in a position to lead, having the ability to lead, or an instance of leading. Through the various moments in Phil Mickelson’s life that have been analyzed here, he has shown he’s been a leader in all three of these circumstances. He’s in a position to lead others by being a public figure and having fans who worship him and his successes. The ability to lead is clear when he has shown various traits that are necessary for any great leader throughout his entire life. And lastly his greatest instance of leading is how he guided his family through the turmoil of dealing with two members dealing with such serious health conditions. Phil Mickelson, through being a loving husband, caring son, and brilliant golfer, should also be thought of as being a great leader.


Phil Fanatics. Phil Mickelson Biography
Retrieved July 22, 2011 from:

LA Times (1991). Mickelson Lived Amateur’s Dream
Retrieved July 25, 2011 from: