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Phil's Phanatics are the faithful followers of Phil Mickelson. While Tiger Woods draws the largest crowds, there is a difference between the fans that follow Tiger and those watching Phil, especially in the New York City area. Lefty's group is arguably the "Arnie's Army" of his generation.
Why is Michelson so loved? Because he's fallible like us, always wears his heart on his sleeve, often going for it and coming up just short.
Both Mickelson and Palmer have a similar playing style, one that attracts fans. From most accounts, Palmer's aggressive playing style and dramatic high-risk shots frequently went astray, an apt description of Mickelson's method. Both styles make for great drama, both live and on TV.
Nick Ferraro is an example of the type of fan that follows Phil. Nick carried his homemade "Phil face" for 18 holes in lousy weather to show his "support and love" for Phil during the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. He had tickets for Thursday's rained-out first round, but bought the playoff insurance for $10 to enable him and his girlfriend, who also followed in support, to watch the final round on Monday. His "Phil face" was created by a ruler he bought from Staples and giant printouts of Mickelson's mug he found on the Internet.
Another fan named Hatel had a similar tale after following Mickelson at last year's Barclay's tournament. At the end of one round Phil gave Hatel the KPMG hat off his head. The fan was quick to point out "this hat was made for Phil as part of his sponsorship agreement and you cannot buy one like it," and gushed like a schoolgirl, "I have never seen him so intense or work that hard for a championship."
From the moment Mickelson steps onto the first tee until he leaves the course you can hear screams from the Phanatics: "You're the best," "You're my hero," and "I love you Phil." This reaction has the energy of an Olympic event or college football games. At some par-3s fans do the wave for their hero. This is their man, the people's man. Why such passion? Because Phil strives for the best and sometimes wins, but more often than not loses. He's not Tiger, the mythological god/superhero who manages to overcome the obstacles and frequently prevail. Phil's wins are grittier, drama-filled and sweat-inducing.
At what time do heroes such as Mickelson and Palmer realize they're being followed with such conviction? According to Palmer, the first time he recognized the phenomenon was at the 1957 Masters when he looked up at the scoreboard and saw a soldier from nearby Ft. Gordon holding a sign that read, "Arnie's Army."
Perhaps raw emotion has the masses following Phil. At the Open there were four teenage boys running in a line, like four Rockettes that escaped from Radio City Music Hall, each of their bare chests with a letter that collectively spelled "PHIL." Grown men in the high-priced hospitality tents left their flat-screens and cocktails to come out on the terraces and pay homage as Phil walked past.
Another fan named Suchita has been following Phil for 10 years. He was among 200 or so at the U.S. Open pressed against the fence just past the putting green near Bethpage's clubhouse. Although Mickelson faltered down the stretch, coming in second, and the Open would be the last time he would be playing as he was going to assist his wife Amy's treatment for breast cancer, Mickelson talked to the media and then walked into the crowd to sign autographs for 30 minutes. There were more screams of "We love you Phil" as the police held the throngs back. If you didn't know better, you'd have sworn you were at a Bruce Springsteen concert.
While we wait patiently for his return (in next week's Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron), you can be sure the fire will continue to burn in the bellies of Phil's Phanatics.
Elisa Gaudet brings a wealth of entertainment and golf experience to Cybergolf. Elisa has spent the past several years in the golf industry in the U.S., Latin America and Spain. She worked for the PGA Tour and the Tour de las Americas before founding Executive Golf International, a golf marketing company that works with clients to develop strategies using golf as the medium. Often referred to as the Maria Bartiromo (a business analyst for CNBC) of golf, Elisa says: "Golf, as a marketing tool, has been around for years. It's amazing how many new ways companies can align their brand with the golf market to reach their target audience. Our goal is to create alliances and establish cross-border relations." Elisa also worked in the entertainment industry for over 10 years, including five in Los Angeles as a model and actress. She can be seen at many celebrity golf events and often gets the inside scoop from PGA Tour players. For more information about Elisa, visit her websites at www.onthelip.com or Executive Golf International www.execgolfintl.com.