Phil Mickelson Wasn't the Only Winner at Masters

The final day of the Masters golf tournament concluded with Phil Mickelson winning his third green jacket in a sweet and sentimental ending to a four day mini-series of back stories and sub-plots worthy of a Hollywood screenplay. Phil held onto his wife Amy, a breast cancer survivor, after he walked off the final green -- and it seemed he might never let go.

A couple hours earlier, he hit a shot on the 13th hole that seemed destined to define the year: off of pine straw, in between two trees, over a creek, onto the thinnest portion of the green, a few feet from the pin. It was swashbuckling, heroic, inspiring. Then he missed the putt for eagle. Perhaps, in retrospect, that does define the year, in golf and in America.

Don’t get me wrong. While I once carried a 3 handicap, the difference between my level of achievement and that of a pro is just under the distance between where the Earth rotates around the sun and Proxima Centauri, our next nearest star. I’m not being in the least bit critical or cynical.

Instead, I watched with awe and admiration from the centerfield bleachers as guys with amazing skills did sparkling things that I can see with the naked eye, but never could quite touch, except rarely.  Yet this Masters tournament was not just about amazing shots, of which there were many. It was about stumbling and recovering. It was about fending off trials and tribulations, overcoming obstacles and fears, staring down challenges, embracing decency and in many ways, it was about healing.

The tournament started on Thursday with ceremonial tee shots from 80-year-old Arnold Palmer and 70-year-old Jack Nicklaus.  If one was looking for symbolism, two of the greatest golfers of all time began the 2010 Masters with a bow toward genteel manners and a hearty dose of respect for the traditions of the game. If the message was not intentional, it was still emphatic.  Golf strives to be different in one defining characteristic: the players are on the honor system; they are to call penalties on themselves.  They are to uphold the unspoken agreement that etiquette matters.  Behavior matters. Setting an example matters.

By now, the saga of Tiger and his infidelities are more than common knowledge. They were the stuff of weekly tabloid articles and late-night comedian monologues. Less well known globally, but no less  significant, Phil has endured a year where his wife and his mother were diagnosed with breast cancer some six weeks apart.

Professional golf on courses as difficult as Augusta National requires fierce concentration. Playing with mental distractions while chopping it around your local municipal course would add ten shots to a typical amateur’s   game.  Both Phil and Tiger had to fend off life’s kicks and punches and still try to carve out a victory in the first of professional golf's four major championships of the year (the other three are the US Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship).