Thumbs Up All the Way for Phil Mickelson, and happy retirement to Marv Albert
It was thumbs up all the way for Phil Mickelson.
In what was one of the top moments of the year in sports, and undoubtedly the banner moment in Mickelson’s career, the golfer who many understandably said was no longer a threat to win a major, captured the PGA Golf Championship.
Not only did he achieve the victory on the difficult Kiawah Ocean Course with winds creating chaos, especially on the final day, but he had to hold off some mighty challengers in the process.
Yes, Brooks Koepka, was coming off knee surgery which left him unquestionably less than 100%, but Koepka is 19 years younger than Mickelson and has won the PGA title twice and the U.S. Open on two occasions.
Also, Louis Oosthuizen, who won the Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland in 2010, was in the hunt as well.
I guess I buried the lead.
In unexpectedly winning his first major tournament in eight years, Mickelson became the oldest professional golfer in history to take down a major.
He will turn 51 June 6th.
There is so much more than breaking down the PGA Championship by the pure numbers of Mickelson’s lead going into the final round, and his eventual margin of victory, as well as the critical holes that both made a difference in his winning, and almost proved to be his undoing.
I look at Phil Mickelson’s tremendous accomplishment in two respects: the pictures we all saw on television, and the behind the scenes story that paved the way for what transpired.
The joyous scenes showed Phil giving the thumbs up sign to his loud, enthusiastic supporters almost every step of the way. Most golfers look straight ahead as they walk to the next tee, and march down the paths of the fairways, heading for their second shot.
Not Mickelson. He was dialed into the throng.
Then, the throng got bigger and louder as they closed in at the final holes. I had never seen anything like it.
After his second shot on 18, he was engulfed by the fans, almost swallowed up.
He finally emerged as he walked to the green.
Perhaps the only one who had difficulty with the conditions was Koepka, who had to protect his surgically-repaired knee, and said he got “dinged” a couple of times.
The other story is about Phil Mickelson’s temperament.
In failing to finish in the top 20 in his last 24 appearances, Mickelson has suffered from mental lapses that has gotten him off track more often than not.
He has been affected by distractions of all kinds, including criticism from outsiders.
This is where his caddy, and brother, Tim, proved to be a hero.
All week, the new PGA champ was a study in patience, quiet determination, and calm.
Tim told him, “keep your mind quiet”.
Phil with his caddy and brother, Tim
Many stars from many sports are able to keep the “noise” from the outside, from affecting their concentration.
Mickelson has had difficulty doing that.
His mind has flown in many directions, and it has cost him.
This time, with Tim’s urging, he was able to concentrate, and focus completely.
He held on in the final round, as a five-stroke lead was narrowed to two.
For those of us who play golf, it is fun to identify with what the pros do when we watch them on TV.
We know what they do is in an entirely different universe from what we do.
That’s not the point. They do great things, but we see them struggle too.
We see them miss short putts, chunk chip shots, and hit drives way to the right.
It’s just that they play on an astronomically higher level.
We also see how much concentration is a huge factor in playing well.
How often, does our concentration and focus, lapse during a round?
How often do we overthink, and not just “keep our mind quiet”?
For us, it’s the difference between feeling good after a round of golf with the guys.
For Phil Mickelson, it was the difference in winning, perhaps, the most significant tournament of his career.
* * *
Marv Albert announced his retirement last week.
It will take effect after he completes the NBA Conference Finals on TNT in June.
He will turn 80 June 12th, and follows Mike Emrick and yours truly in retirement from calling games on network television.
I had the honor of broadcasting nine NBA Finals, the same number as Marv.
Only Mike Breen, currently with ABC and ESPN has done more.
I met Marv at Syracuse University in the early 60’s.
Marv, who had been a ballboy with the New York Knicks in high school, followed the advice of the great New York sports announcer Marty Glickman to attend Syracuse, where Glickman was a top-ranked track star who was on the U.S. team at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
In my opinion, Marv, who excelled in hockey,and boxing commentary among others, was born to be an NBA play-by-play broadcaster.
We’ve known each other for 60 years. We haven’t always stayed in touch, but we have been friends.
I was selected to be the sports director of the campus radio station, WAER in my sophomore year.
Marv was a year ahead of me, and worked as a disc jockey on a local radio station in town, WOLF.
His career was underway, and mine hadn’t gotten off the ground.
We both desired the post of sports director the following year. For me it would be a repeat role.
So, Marv Albert and Dick Stockton applied to the faculty committee to head the sports programming at the campus station, and in the process decide who would announce the basketball games.
I’m sure you readers get the picture.
Neither one of us was picked.
There you have it.
Fast-forward to when Marv was the radio voice of the Knicks a few years later. Marv was broadcasting Knicks and Rangers hockey games, and I was working at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, and home for the holidays.
I sat with him as he aired the Knicks-Bullets game in 1968, from his perch in the press box of Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve. The new Garden had opened in February of that year. After the game I joined him at his midtown apartment to celebrate the big night,
He had a piano, which I played.
Nearby was a crib with his first-born child.
He began to cry.
I guess he didn’t like the concert.
The baby’s name was Kenny.
Today Kenny Albert is one of the most outstanding play-by-play announcers in the business.
He’s been with Fox Sports working every sport the network has aired.
He will broadcast the Stanley Cup Finals for NBC this year, and is set to become the lead voice for the NHL on Turner Sports when it takes over half of the network hockey package, starting next season.
I still practice the piano endlessly, still trying to impress Kenny Albert.