Mickelson's best still to come

Rick Reilly and Phil Mickelson

RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. -- Does Phil Mickelson give lessons?

"No," he said. "And if I did, my rate might be a little steep."

Reportedly, he gets half a million dollars for a corporate day of golf, schmooze, dinner and speech. That works out to something like $65,000 an hour. So a half-hour lesson would be, what, $25,000, with the media discount?

What did I care? I was quitting.

Me: Great. I'll expense it. 

Pause.

"OK. Come on down."

I did want a lesson, but not just on golf.

What's not to learn? Mickelson seems to have somehow cornered the market on happiness. He has a bucket of sunshine for a wife, three gorgeous kids, $48 million per year coming in (according to Forbes), 51 worldwide wins, five majors, a jet, a compound the size of Rhode Island, a clean arrest record, and an optimism that would floor Little Orphan Annie.

He met me at his house, which is not like your house.

His house is more like a Spanish village with Winged Foot attached. Outside his front door he has four chipping greens, a lavish putting green with every kind of putt you can think of, and a tee box where he can hit drivers up to 450 yards, usually in flip-flops. He might have the only house in America with its own greenkeeping staff.

He greets me in his golf cart, which is not like your golf cart.

His has a satellite dish on the roof and a TV in the front, so he can get 1,000 channels and XM radio. Gift from his wife, Amy. "This way I can watch football and still play," says Mickelson.

Time for the lesson.

Me: OK. First, I want to learn that over-the-head backward lob wedge shot you hit.

This is clearly not what he expected, but I'm paying, right?

So he taught me the over-the-head lob wedge shot. He set it up on the steep lip of a bunker, faced away from the green, and sailed it straight up over his head backward onto the green.

On the fifth try, after blading two over a fence, I did it. Pretty as you please.

Me: Cake. What else you got?

He trotted out his patented off-the-cement-cart-path shot (leaving a ding on his famous Ping lob wedge.) The high, soft chip. The chip and run. The impossibly sky-high bunker shot, the zip-ball trick, and the flip-the-club-backward special. He showed me everything but the hit-it-between-two-trees-207-yards-over-the-creek-at-Augusta-to-3-feet shot. "Make sure the ball actually fits between the trees," he advised.

Me: You have all these shots, and yet you missed the cut at the Masters this year and missed the cut at the Players. Is the arthritis back?

He laughed. "No, I feel great. I can't remember the last time I felt this good. It doesn't even feel like I've got the arthritis. And because of my diet, I've reduced my meds to one-third of what I had at first. I've lost 20-plus pounds."

And then he said something bizarre: "The next five years are going to be the best of my career."

Me: Let me get this straight. From age 43 to age 48, you're going to play the best golf of your life?

"I think so. I'm going to win a bunch of tournaments. I'm going to win at least one U.S. Open, maybe two. And I'm going to make the 2016 Olympic team. And really, I'd love to make the 2020 Olympic team. I'd be 50. How cool would that be?"

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