MEXICO CITY – Prompted by a local media type to test his Spanish this week, Phil Mickelson played along: “Un poquito,” he said, before adding. “I’m very limited on my Spanish, so let’s not overdo it, OK?”
It’s only taken Lefty two days for the local masses to make their own translation of the mercurial southpaw – entretenido.
Mickelson has been his quintessentially entertaining self, combining four birdies with a bogey on Day 2 for a 7-under total and a share of second place. But there was much more to the 46-year-old’s line than that. There always is, and it started long before Mickelson even teed off.
Lefty’s longtime caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, arrived at Club de Golf Chapultepec suffering from a stomach virus, which has been a common theme this week.
Midway through Mickelson’s warm-up, Mackay retreated to the clubhouse and Lefty’s brother, Tim, was put on call to possibly caddie.
“[Mickelson] has only had three caddies: his father-in-law [Gary McBride], Bones and me, and I’m retired,” Lefty’s manager, Steve Loy, said.
The last time Mickelson played an official event without Bones at his side was at the 2012 Singapore Open, the two a Tour staple for more than two decades. It’s a legacy made all the more amazing considering Mackay was back on the bag to start the year at the CareerBuilder Challenge after having double knee surgery in the offseason.
The bond runs so deep, Mickelson even called Mackay’s doctor the day before the surgery. “Hey, man, I need your best tomorrow,” he said.
Mackay tried to work through the symptoms, hoisting the bag as Mickelson teed off and making it all the way to the fourth green (No. 13) before he finally succumbed to the symptoms and was driven back to the clubhouse.
“Bones is irreplaceable. I mean he’s one of the best in the business,” Mickelson said. “But he’s hurting. It’s a difficult course to walk because it is hilly. We’ve had phenomenal times. But on the positive side, I had a lot of fun with my brother.”
The brothers Mickelson began their era together in perfectly Mickelson-esque style, bogey at their first hole together (No. 14), birdie at the next, with a couple of wayward tee shots (No. 18) and miracle recovery attempts (No. 2) along the way, exactly what we’ve come to love and lament about Lefty.
“It was fun. It was the first time we were able to do that and it was fun. Trust me, I don’t want Bones’ job, though,” Tim Mickelson said. “I have a whole new respect. Every hole seems uphill.”
Mickelson missed wildly to the left with his tee shot at the second hole, tried to flop his next over a row of towering trees, a gamble that he lost, and needed to scramble from an awkward lie in the rough for his par.
It was perfect Phil, undeterred by distraction or potentially disastrous play. Where the mundane holds little appeal for Lefty, overcoming increasingly long odds seems to bring out the best in him.
Mickelson didn’t know if Mackay would be back at his side for Round 3, setting up an interesting scenario for Tim Mickelson, who is the manager of Jon Rahm. The Spaniard is currently tied for 14th in Mexico and could find himself vying for the same title.
“Let’s think about that on Sunday, because you want them both in the last group on Sunday, and at that point I’d recuse myself from walking,” smiled the younger Mickelson.
At this stage in his career Lefty hasn’t tried to hide the notion that it’s the majors that truly matter to him, but his body language this week suggests otherwise.
Much like there is every time he turns onto Magnolia Lane, which has always been hallowed ground for Mickelson, or arrives at the U.S. Open, the only missing piece to an otherwise perfect resume, there has been an elevated ease to Lefty this week.
“What’s so fun about this course and I think the reason I’ve really fallen for it so quickly is that you have alternate ways to play every hole,” he said with an exuberance normally reserved for stops of the Grand Slam variety.
“You can hit driver on every hole and with the altitude you can really try and overpower it. However, the trees are so thick and dense you don’t have a recovery shot. You can play conservative with irons. It’s really a fun, exciting course to watch guys play.”
Mickelson has won two World Golf Championships, both in 2009, and the second at this event, albeit on another golf course, in a different country and under another sponsor.
Historically, the WGCs haven’t exactly been atop Mickelson’s dance card. He missed the Match Play from 2012-15 for a variety of reasons, including his children’s spring break, and he’s played the WGC-HSBC Champions only four times. The point is, although they are lucrative stops against the world’s best, the events have enjoyed a place well behind the majors for Lefty.
But this week seems different. This week Mickelson’s demeanor can be summed up with a single word – emocionado.