I’m often asked what makes Phil, well… ”Phil.” You know…qualities and traits that make him so successful. And with him turning the big 5-0 this month, it seems we have been doing a lot of reflecting and reminiscing about everything that has made him who he is today, especially during his early years.
To understand Phil at 50, you must first get a better idea as to who he was growing up. Even as a baby he was feisty, strong willed and commanding a presence. I was fifteen months old when he was born so clearly I don’t remember a lot about his “big debut,” but I do have memories of his stomach issues and some other weird allergy stuff that contributed to his early grumpy disposition. He was colicky. He was crampy. He was cranky. And he cried. Man, did he cry. His lungs? Definitely no issue there. Those things could belt out a scream that made me hide under my bed until morning.
It’s safe to say that early on, I wasn’t so sure about him. But the poor little guy experienced his fair share of discomfort. I believe having to deal with that constant discomfort as a child made him even tougher, especially mentally, and I believe that helped him greatly throughout his life as well as his career. He is stronger for it. He is better for it. My early memories of him, not so much.
One of the first things I remember about the “new kid” is when he was just six months old. I vividly recall taking this Christmas photo not because we were oozing with Holiday spirit, but because that “buzz kill on my right” wouldn’t smile. The photo session took so long it felt like we moved past Christmas altogether and right into Lent. The book in this photo was not a prop. It was to help me pass the time while our sweet mother tried to coax and cajole this little grump into even the faintest of smiles. The more she pleaded for a grin the more dead set he was against it. Our parents didn’t realize it at the time, but this was some serious foreshadowing.
What kind of foreshadowing, you ask? It’s hard to pick just one. How about the time our mom told him to take a shower and just like that, he decided he simply was not going to do it. He was in fifth grade and it was getting increasingly more difficult to wrestle with his strong will. So Mom did the next best thing: resorting to natural consequences.
I overheard her talking to our dad about it one night, “He doesn’t want to take a shower? Fine. He doesn’t have to. We’ll just see what happens.”
She called his teacher the next morning to explain their “shower version” of “Chicken,” and that if he appears (and smells) less than hygienic, there is a calculated reason behind it. If there were odds in Vegas on how long he would hold out, I would bet everyone would have taken the under. And lost.
Finally, the day came when one of the kids in his class gave an exaggerated sniff, asked what that terrible smell was, and that was all it took. Phil came home, immediately took a shower and took one every day after that. But the difference was, it was HIS choice. Our mom is still very proud of her approach on that one, hence the amount of times that story has been told.
Anyway, as you can see, hopes of a better photo the following year came up disappointingly short, leaving me to wonder if it was too late to send the new kid back.
It was around this time that my parents signed up for a course in “How to Raise a Strong Willed Child.” I remember them quoting things from the class which was often followed with, “Why isn’t it working!?”
So the next year, knowing it was impossible for Phil not to smile when he was holding a golf club, our brilliant mother plucked his little driver out of his home-made golf bag, offered it up like a dog treat, got the shot and called it a day.
(And in case you were wondering, yes those are the same outfits we wore the year before. Our parents were thrifty. Don’t judge.)
Phil never went anywhere without his golf club. The park? Sure. As long as he could hit balls on the grass. Family vacation? Fun! But only if his golf club came along. Most kids have security blankets. For Phil, his golf club provided all the comfort he needed.
As Phil got older his physical discomfort started to subside and he quickly became a lot more endearing. He made me laugh like no one else could.
And he has only become funnier. I mean, he’s REALLY FUNNY. Gut cramping, leg slapping, spit out your water funny. Still, to this day, my husband asks me how in the world he comes up with the stuff that he does. And still, to this day, I don’t quite have an answer.
Early in his career during a post-round interview he was asked if he thought he came across as a know-it-all. Without hesitation he explained that as a child he required a very involved brain surgery in order to lower his IQ. It was simply too high and his parents thought it best to bring it down to “genius range” in hopes that he could better relate to other human beings.
The interviewer was enthralled by this, asking a myriad of follow up questions as Phil slowly leaned toward him and whispered, “Gotcha.”
And it’s not just his wit. He loves to play practical jokes.
He proudly shared with me after a tournament round one day that, on the practice putting green just before teeing off, he “warned” a fellow player in his group that, “if he was planning to change his shirt he should hurry up and do it now because they only have about five minutes before they need to be on the first tee.”
That was followed with a look of surprise and, “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t realize you were actually planning to wear that on the course. My bad. You look…good. No really. It’s fine.”
Then he winked and shuffled off to the first tee box while the player stood there, blank-faced as his caddie shrugged.
People often ask where he gets his humor and the answer is easy and clear: our Mother. I remember a particular Family Night at the Movies during a Winter Break from college one year. Phil, Tim and I could not figure out why the couple a few rows in front of us (who were making out incessantly) would pause, turn around and shoot us dirty looks. This went on for half the movie before it looked like the guy was going to come back and give my brothers and me a beat down. We were so confused (and a little scared) until our mom proudly held up the squirt gun she smuggled in. The guy took one look at this sweet smiling woman wielding her “weapon” and simply turned around in a huff. I quickly confiscated the little gun from her (but not without a fight) because I knew that if there was still water in it, Mom wasn’t done.
Ironically, Mom would often try to coax Phil into taking his shenanigans down a notch, especially on Tour. Every time she would try to explain that “not everyone takes practical jokes well,” he would shoot back that he would agree to curtail his clowning around if she would, too, and that was usually the end of the conversation. Spoiler alert: neither of them ever did.
Now our Dad? Our Dad is a total badass.
He was a fighter pilot and then flight instructor in the Navy, stationed at Miramar in San Diego in the early 1960’s. In October of 1963 he received his acceptance letter from the Blue Angels, requesting him to report to Pensacola. He was stationed in Hawaii and suffered a back injury that would take six to eight weeks to heal and the Blue Angels could not wait that long. They had to bring in his alternate, and that was the end of his hopes of becoming “one of the Blues.”
He won’t really come out and say it, but I think that was one of the biggest disappointments of his life.
Phil and I learned at an early age that our dad meant business. Right was right. Wrong was wrong. No meant no. And disobedience had consequences.
One afternoon at around age four after having recently celebrated Halloween, our candy stash was epic and my mind was reeling with possibilities regarding what to eat first. The only problem? My Dad said we had eaten enough candy for the day and were not to have any more. My immediate solution was to retreat to the back corner of my closet, close the doors and go to town.
Somehow Phil discovered my hideout. He swung open the closet doors with a very loud, “Whatcha doing?” I grabbed his little sleeve and snatched him into the closet with me as his eyes grew wide and he warned that, “Daddy said no! Daddy said no! Ooh…trouble!”
I bribed him with a piece of candy for his silence and suddenly he was onboard as we began to bond over our scandalous behavior until our Dad opened the closet doors and Phil sang like a canary.
It didn’t help that I scolded him right there in front of our Dad for telling the truth. Apparently, I said, “Shh! I told you not to tell him!” So now I was in trouble for disobedience AND lying, and I learned at a very young age about double jeopardy.
Dad calmly explained his disappointment that we would do something that we clearly knew was wrong. He then explained that the consequences would have to match the severity of our crime. He collected our epic stash, piled it high in the fire place and set it ablaze as we stood there motionless.
But looking back, I know it was tough on our Dad to do something that was so heartbreaking for us. He is a very compassionate and caring man (even though we would have argued it on that day) but actions have consequences and we deserved ours. To this day, Phil and I still jokingly argue over whose fault it was, as our Dad points out how effective the lesson turned out to be since we seem to constantly bring it up.
This type of discipline was steadfast our entire childhood, both with our behavior as well as work ethic.
Dad would often ask, “If you are going to do something, why wouldn’t you do it the very best you can?”
This, combined with Phil’s passion for the game of golf is what drove him to practice relentlessly. If “X performance” is good enough today, it will most certainly not be good enough tomorrow. He
would often say that every minute he spends not practicing is an opportunity for others to practice and get better than him.
So he was driven in such a way that practice was not looked upon as “work”, but as an opportunity.
Speaking of practice, our Dad was (and still is) a golf addict, so much so that he constructed a little 20-yard golf hole complete with tee box, green and bunker in our back yard. Phil would practice out there for hours.
It took some time for the yard to evolve into what you see in these photos. At first it was just a little tee box in the corner by the patio, and a green as far back and across the yard as he could make it. In the early 80’s our Dad was able to start adding more grass to the middle of the yard and the little golf hole kept getting better and better.
In an effort to make things interesting and fun, Phil would often get extremely creative. This is what has lead to his ability to visualize a variety of shots from any given lie instead of limiting himself to the one that is most obvious.
This has resulted in much criticism and second-guessing from anyone with a microphone. If he pulls off the shot, he is a genius. But if he doesn’t, he’s reckless, careless, negligent, absurd and overconfident.
However, those who knew Phil and his game well enough could always interpret what he was trying to do and why. He had a vision that other golfers (and media-types) simply could not see or make sense of. It was fascinating to watch it unfold.
During a tournament early in his career he was faced with a short approach shot from the right rough with a tree obstructing his line to the green. I heard the commentators debate which club he would use and which line he would take…around the tree to the right, or around the tree to the left because, according to their “geometrical calculations,” there was no mathematical way to feasibly approach this shot any other way.
Only, there was. At least, for Phil there was. As he set up to his ball with a club having much more loft on it than anyone could fathom, he took an aggressive full swing, cleared the tree and landed on the green leaving him about a 5-foot putt (which he made.) He was hailed a hero, but if the result was any different, so would be the description of him.
One of my favorite shots I’ve seen him do is the “backwards shot.” He would place the ball up on the lip of our backyard bunker, right leg propped high on the edge of the lip, left leg low, take a huge swing at it, and the ball would obediently shoot straight up and then backwards, over his right shoulder.
And I remember the day he first pulled it off in our backyard. I was watching cartoons after school and Phil was doing what he always did in the afternoon: Practicing. I heard a high-pitched shriek (this was before his voice changed) followed by an excited command for us to come outside. I think I might have been the only one within earshot at the time so I scurried out to see what the big deal was. He performed his new “trick,” followed by a signal that included outstretched arms and a head held extremely high that I think was supposed to represent, “Ta-Da!”
I gave him an obligatory slow clap before turning on my heel and hustling back inside just in time to catch Popeye downing his spinach. I later realized that it was kind of a big deal when he was asked to perform this shot incessantly, he was featured performing it all over the internet, and the reaction of anyone witnessing it was always so much more enthusiastic than mine was. But whatever. He got over it.
As a child, Phil always had a commanding physical presence, even if it wasn’t…umm, how to say this…graceful. He would bounce through our house as a kid with reckless abandon, not worrying about whether or not his moves were all that precise.
When he was around three or so, the top of his head was about the same height as our counters. He was a football player for Halloween that year and our parents didn’t skip a beat. They were concerned about the risk of a serious head injury so they decided to have him wear a football helmet around the house to see if it offered him any protection. It did.
One day we had company over and they were intrigued by the helmet, asking about the reason for its implementation. Right on cue Phil charged around the corner, plowed head first into the counter and then staggered off like a drunker sailor. There were no injuries, and no need for further explanation.
Phil has the same type of “charge forth” approach with his golf game, only minus the clumsiness. After all, there’s a reason for the slogan, “What Will Phil Do Next?”
Speaking of not holding back, one of Phil’s most career-defining shots was in 2010 on the par-5 thirteenth hole at Augusta on Masters Sunday. If you only “kind of” follow golf, you know the one. With his ball situated on a bed of pine needles, his lie was not great to say the least. And to add to the drama, he had two trees he needed to thread the ball between. To say there was a gap between the trees would be generous. It was more like a slit.
But the shot called for a 6-iron, which happened to be a club he was working with and tweaking a lot leading up to that week so he felt extra confident with both the club and his swing at that point. He relied on the fact that he knew he could pull this off. And he did. To the tune of 5-feet from the hole.
He didn’t make the putt for eagle, but he did make the birdie putt and the way the crowd roared, echoing through the majestic grounds that late Sunday afternoon is a memory I will hold tight for many years to come.
In 1977, the best thing to ever happen to our family up to that point came along. Our brother Tim was born. I was eight years old, Phil was seven. Phil was so excited about having a brother that he prepared for months. He gathered up all his favorite toys, balls and games as he eagerly awaited a new little buddy to play with. We all still laugh about the big day he finally met Tim. Mom brought Tim home from the hospital and immediately toys were flying out of Phil’s hands as he fumbled his way toward his new BFF. But, disappointment quickly shook him to his core.
He took one look at the feeble, scrawny newborn and whined, “He can’t do ANYTHING. How am I supposed to play with…(motions with upward facing open palm sweeping back and forth in front of poor baby) THAT?”
It wasn’t long, however, until Tim COULD play with him and they’ve been best buds ever since. I hit the sibling lottery with those two.
It’s tough not to get nostalgic or sentimental when thinking about Phil turning 50. All the stories and experiences we recall with fondness and giggles are what have shaped him into who he is today. And we’re simply talking about his growth BEFORE meeting and marrying Amy and then becoming a father himself. (I could write about how wonderful Amy is for the NEXT 50 years and still have more to say.)
So at 50, I see a certain amount of peace and tranquility in Phil, but don’t mistake that for complacency. He has more to do. More to accomplish. Now with Tim as his caddie and by his side, they can accomplish it together. He is still just as passionate and obsessed with the game of golf as he was before he was potty trained. But if you ask him what is next, the answer is still evolving. He loves playing on the PGA Tour and hopes to do that until he feels it is time for something else.
I don’t think he can go a day without being asked about the Champions Tour. Trust me, if he decides to go that route, he’ll let us know. But right now, life doesn’t suddenly change course because your birthday includes a certain number.
Father Time spares no one however, he is open to negotiation with those willing to put forth the effort and work with him. Phil now works just as hard on his physical and mental strength as he does on his golf game.
His body needs more recovery time after tournaments. He needs to work out longer and harder in order to keep his muscles strong enough to maintain his swing speed as well as protect from injury. He has incorporated certain mental tools (meditation, etc.) to help with his focus as well as a very regimented approach to nutrition both in diet and supplements to keep him healthy and strong. Everything he does is geared toward being the best he can possibly be physically, mentally, emotionally and professionally. All that work, dedication and drive are what have helped him accomplish the amount of success and longevity we have seen in him as a player over all these years.
So yes, when I look at Phil I see him through the same eyes I did so many years ago. I love him just as fiercely and look up to him just as much as when we were kids. It’s hard to tell what the next 50 years will bring but I do know this:
He will approach them like he always has. With love, compassion, dedication, hard work and an appreciation for everyone and everything he has been blessed with.
Love you, Bro. To the moon and back.