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Phil Mickelson & Family: It's the ‘March of the Penguins’

By: Jay Flemma


I recently endured a Hollywood director's mind-numbing rant about how angry he was that "March of the Panguins" blew away pretty much everything last year at the box office. "I can't understand it" he moaned. "It had no production, no budget, no plot and one star, who never appeared on screen once!"

How dare it I thought. God forbid that people should shell out $10 and not be treated to a gratuitous fiery explosion chasing some chump down a hallway! How could people not be drawn to such a great movie season featuring so many memorable remakes and sequels such as "Dukes of Hazzard," "House of Wax," "Triple XXX 2," and a remake of the "Bad News Bears."

The New York Times also panned March of the Penguins in a fit of sadly political metaphor, noting that "it exchanges nihilism for family values." Notably, it gave a good review to such "enduring" horror schlock films as "Hostel" and "Saw 2," which time has shown to be utterly forgettable.

While I choose not to pass judgment on the POLITICAL issue, I'll note that family values are not lost on everyone, and that they have endearing moments.

Cut to Phil Mickelson. Mickelson and his family are just like “March of the Penguins” a. . . and not just because he resembles a penguin. Yeah, he's a little chubby, a little frumpy, a little dopey-looking. And yes, he does kinda . . . well . . . waddle down the fairway a bit . . . it's not the most graceful gait. But that's not it.

People gravitate to him because family values are not dead in America. In fact, they are still a strong, surging groundswell. And while the media may attack Phil for such "atrocities" as 1) not living up to their hype; 2) taking on Tiger, the media-anointed Chosen One in "equipment-gate"; 3) having too pretty a wife and too-cute kids; and 4) exchanging equipment before the Ryder Cup, the observant and dedicated golf fan sees right through such nonsense.

We see right through it even faster than we see through Dan Hicks' vacuous Tigerphilic play-by-play calls.

Phil has endured a vehement media firestorm unecessarily. First, he became the poster boy for the most overused, worthless, disgraceful, stupid and unecessary talking point – "who is the best player never to win a major?" "Zero-for-whatever," they kept counting.

Has that nonsense ever been used anywhere else in the history of sport? Ever heard "the greatest team never to win a Super Bowl" or "the greatest manager never to win a World Series?" No. Phil alone had to endure such ignominy. Good thing now there are too many players to warrant any consensus on the issue. Now it’s just for chumps who have nothing else to write or talk about.

Well, Phil sure got that monkey off his back in spectacular fashion – he beat it to death with a gap wedge. He took "BPNTWAM" and buried it in a coffin, threw the coffin in the river, and hurled the river into space. But was that good enough? No.

There was "equipment-gate," the offhand comment about the Woods and Nike union. Another controversy. Next, the media would pin the U.S. loss of the Ryder Cup on him too – first for switching equipment right before the tournament and then for a couple of poor shots.

And worst of all, last year the media banged the drum: "Phil is a phony . . . all he talks about are his family and his kids."

Funny thing though, the patrons and real golf fans aren't buying it. "Real golf fans get Phil and love Phil," said golf fan and U.S. Open attendee, Andrea, from Asheville, N.C. "He reminds us of our own lives. He's not untouchable like so many other Tour players. There is a warmth there. Not only to us, but it's nice that we get to see those glimpses with the family, too."

To some in the media, the story rubs as saccharine-sweet. "Well, we don't buy into a lot of that," said Brian from Manhattan, who watched Phil's victory at Baltusrol. "They like to think that we believe everything they tell us and sometimes they get convinced we’re listening. The casual fan may be influenced by what he reads and what he sees on ESPN, but real golf fans know ESPN knows nothing about golf and TV announcers know little more, if any. And let me tell you something. We root for Phil."

So Phil went out and won the PGA Championship last year, too. Much to the delight of all greater NYC . . . and Arizona . . . and the golf public at large. So what does the media yell about? He blew off the Tour Championship and the Mercedes.

Oooooooooooo, the Toooooour Chaaaaaampionship. Yeah, like we were all glued to that to begin with. Let me know how this year's turns out. I'll be out playing.

Go ahead, try and name one incident where Phil caused any real trouble. He never threw a camera in a lake (Woods and caddie Steve Williams), screamed at a patron (Woods), made obscene gestures (Vijay Singh and Jonathan Kaye), dropped repeated f-bombs and m-f bombs (Woods, who, at one point for five years running was the most-fined player on Tour), demanded to be paid for the honor of representing America (Woods/David Duval), raked a green at the national championship while the reigning Masters champion (Woods), took a divot out of the sixth green at Riviera (several), ridiculed Annika Sorenstam for wanting a week with the guys (several), or whined about a course set up (several more).

When has Mickelson ever stalked off the course in anger without signing his card (John Daly), comicly hit five balls in a row in the water (Daly), swung at a moving ball (Daly), acted like some kind of redneck Zorro signing body parts (Daly), or drank so much he couldn't function the next day (Daly)?

Did “Lefty” ever once lose patience with a writer out of anger for the POINTED questions he got asked time and again early in his career? Was there ever a snap, snipe or sour note? Not once. He took it all and he took it like a GENTLEMAN.

No, some people just don't like Phil because, for the most part, you can walk 360 degrees around him and there's no dark side. Which means there is precious little to write about during golf’s Silly Season. The rest? Well you know what? There comes a point when it's nobody's business. Just because you play good golf does not mean you give up the right to have what happens in the family to not stay in the family.

Where that line is remains unclear, but Phil has never run from us like Woods. Or Singh. Or many other Tour players.

Well, guess what Hollywood and New York Times? “March of the Penguins” not only showed us that you don't need special effects and "megawattage starlets" to make an enduring masterpiece. It also showed us that people do care about heartwarming stories, good sportsmanship, acting noble and being humble. People care about hard-working, non-preening overachievers who put family first. In fact, they sure are more inspiring than the examples set by Drew Barrymore (laughing as her mansion burned down before driving off with comic "genius" Tom Green in his sports car), Johnny Knoxville (hey, he calls himself "Jackass" – so there ya go), and Paris Hilton (don't even get me started).

We aren't buying the stale coffee Hollywood and the media are selling anymore.

Cut back to Phil. No, media, we don't believe he's a "phony." We don't think the love of his family is merely an act and that there is really some "American Beauty" undercurrent at which we must "look closer." No, people still like to root for the good guys (Pittsburgh Steeler fans sure abound everywhere, don't they). Just as we found it touching the way penguins waddled and stumbled, yet loved, nurtured, survived and thrived, so too are we drawn to a great “Pheel-good” story. A story of waddling and stumbling (at first) in his career, then a story of survival, victory, nurturing and love.

I think we all pray that hating a guy because he chooses to be a loving husband and parent never becomes fashionable.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.blogspot.com, Jay Flemma’s comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America’s great public golf courses (and whether they’re worth the money), Jay has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf – or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.