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As we enter the 2005 golf season, after looking back at 2004 and his victory at Augusta , can we assume that Phil Mickelson is ready to challenge at the very, very top of the world of golf? What is Phil's competitive potential? Can this very popular golfer dominate a season of golf as Vijay and Tiger have in recent years past? How good can he be? Does he have it?

After watching his wondrous back nine at Augusta last April to win his first major, his run at the other majors and then the incredible 59 at the Grand Slam of Golf just what can this man accomplish in this game? There are a lot of questions about Phil. This writer has seen him do things with a golf ball that seemed uncanny, unequaled. This is a man who won his first tournament as a college amateur and at times appears to be the best in the game. Then on other occasions he seems ordinary, prone to error. To me, Lefty is the best ball striker that I have ever seen. When he is on his game he is so very special, a force with which to be reckoned. So will this man finally rise to the top of the game and dominate as Jones, Hagen, Nelson, Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson, Woods, Singh and a handful of others have in years gone by?

Mickelson has, in the opinion of many analysts, myself included, the greatest talent in the game. He can hit the ball as far as anyone and his iron and short games are incomparable in the highest levels of golfing talent. With 23 victories in 12 years on tour why did it take him so long to win a major? His Masters win is his only major but he has come close so many other times such as his final hole loss to Payne Stewart at the '99 US Open in Pinehurst. He had another second at the US Open 2002 plus four 3rds at the Masters among his many attempts in the majors. He has certainly been near the top of the sport for the past 12 years on tour.

There are a few things about Phil that seem a bit different from others who have gone on to dominate in golf. He might be the most family oriented golfer in history with the possible exception of Nicklaus. He is obviously dedicated to his wife Amy and the three children ages five and under. Family is his priority. Nicklaus was unusual as he was able to manage family and golf often flying home on a Friday night to see his sons play prep football and then flying out afterwards, back to his tour stop. Phil seems more likely to just stay home when important family matters govern. Another question about Phil is his level of dedication to practice and physical exercise. Does he stretch himself and push for excellence like Vijay and Tiger? We know that over the past year or so he has hired short game instructor, Dave Pelz, to help him get better around the greens and putting. I ask why? He is, without a doubt, the best short game player in recent memory.He is like a trick shot artist with a wedge in his hands. Yet he stays dedicated to full game instructor, Rick Smith, regardless of his record, year to year. His caddy, Bones, has been with him for years through “thick and thin”. So it seems to this person that Phil seems contented with his game, his coach and team, his schedule and his career accomplishments. He seems to me to be happy and satisfied.

At age 34, Phil still has eight to 10 years left to show us how good he really is or can be. Hopefully for all of us who respect his ability and enjoy his demeanor he will really dedicate himself and make a run for superstar status, as in the record books. He is a great talent and a great guy with many millions of fans. Two very basic questions remain. Does he have the drive to work? Does he truly have the desire to dominate? Could this be the year that he puts it all together and shows that he too can dominate? We will find out one week at a time.

Tom Finley

January 10, 2005

Photograph: Phil Mickelson - Courtesy of the PGA Tour.

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