Fittingly, Mickelson makes high-profile pro debut

June 18, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

PEBBLE BEACH,CALIF — PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Phil Mickelson has already signed a lucrative contract with a club manufacturer, reportedly worth as much as $5 million. He has a high-profile agent, an entourage and a PGA Tour victory to his credit.

Not bad for someone who turned 22 Monday and will make his professional debut today. It seems only fitting that Mickelson, a player who made history at Arizona State, will play his first pro tournament here at the U.S. Open.

"I couldn't think of a better place to make my pro debut than the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach," Mickelson said during a news conference yesterday. "This is the most nervous I've been at a pro tournament. For some reason, adding the title of professional makes me nervous."

Maybe it has something to do with the expectations that have been heaped on the 6-foot-2, 190-pound left-hander from San Diego. Maybe it has something to do with the comparisons with everyone from Ben Crenshaw to Seve Ballesteros, from Bobby Jones to Jack Nicklaus.

Considering that Mickelson became the first player since Crenshaw to win three NCAA championships, as well as last year's Northern Telecom Tucson Open, and you get an idea as to why the pressure is on. Mickelson is aware that a lot of people are watching.

"I have a lot of self-imposed expectations, that are a lot higher than everyone else's," said Mickelson, the 1990 U.S. Amateur champion.

Mickelson passed on the opportunity to turn pro after winning last year in Tucson, leaving second-place finishers Tom Purtzer and Bob Tway to split his $162,000 check. He also had to put on hold several endorsement deals, including the one he recently signed with Yonex.

"I had a chance to make a lot of money," said Mickelson, who did receive a two-year exemption for his victory. "Money is very secondary to what is important to me. The important things are my goals in the game. All my career plans are tied in to accomplishing those goals."

Rocky Hambric, whose Dallas-based sports management company represents former Open champion Scott Simpson, former Masters champion Larry Mize and former PGA champion Bob Tway, believes that Mickelson will make an impact on the tour. But he wouldn't say how soon.

"There's a lot of pressure on Phil, but he's always been the type of player who responds well to pressure," said Hambric. "He needs that extra push for him to get the most out of his talents, and I think this will do it. At the same time, this is going to be a learning experience."

Mickelson, who will be paired with fellow left-hander Russ Cochran and Gary Hallberg in the opening round, has played in two previous Opens. He finished tied for 29th two years ago at Medinah and was in contention last year until a third-round 80 led to a tie for 55th at Hazeltine.

Because his stature as an amateur enabled him to play in such events as the Masters, Mickelson has been able to play with and talk to some of the game's legends, including, as he calls them publicly, "Mr. Palmer and Mr. Nicklaus." He said that they, and others, have helped him make decisions about his career.

Said Nicklaus: "It's very important that a player like Phil Mickelson understands the difference between making money and winning golf tournaments. If he does that, he can have a very fine career."

In talking about Pebble Beach, Mickelson said, "Just playing the golf course gives me chills."

He spoke of playing the famed 17th hole during Monday's practice round, and putting his ball near the spot from which Tom Watson chipped in for birdie to beat Nicklaus in the 1982 Open here. How did he do?

"It went in," said Mickelson, who grinned sheepishly. "There wasn't a hole there. I was just pretending."

The pretending stops today.

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