TCN EXCLUSIVE: Caddie Tim Mickelson details his PGA Championship experience and celebration
Phil Mickelson’s electrifying PGA Championship win on Sunday was something that fans at Kiawah Island and golf fans watching at home will likely never forget.
Mickelson, of course, became the oldest winner of a major championship and he did so with his younger brother Tim on the bag. This emotional win marks their fifth victory since they began working together nearly four years ago, but more importantly Sunday’s PGA Championship was their first major triumph together. This one understandably meant a lot to Tim, and you could see that in the long embrace he gave his older brother on 18. In fact, that was a moment that creeped into Tim’s mind earlier in the day and he had to manage that emotion of what a winning hug would feel like all day and keep focused on the task at hand.
“So I never wanted to get ahead of myself, I tried to stay very even keeled during the round and try not to get too high or too low,” Mickelson said, “but I’ll be honest, starting with about the fifth hole I started picturing being able to give him a big hug on 18 and then I would think to myself, ‘OK, stop thinking that way, you’re getting ahead of yourself.’ That happened four or five times and so it was a very special moment for us.”
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And in that emotional exchange Tim got to share an understandably strong sentiment to his brother.
“Basically I just told him how proud I am of him and how happy I am to be a part of it and that I love him,” Mickelson said.
For a younger brother who left a very busy career as Jon Rahm’s agent in 2017 to begin looping for Phil, this moment had all the pride and emotion that you’d expect.
“I’m just super proud of Phil and happy for him because I know how hard he’s worked to get this win and honestly just to be able to play at a high level for so long… the workouts he does, the stretching, the meditation, all of that stuff,” Mickelson said. “It was a very special day for Phil, myself, the entire family and so I’m just happy for him, period.”
Speaking of the entire family, a good portion of them drove out to the airport in San Diego where the brothers landed on Sunday night at 1 a.m. PT, including Phil’s 85-year-old father Phil, Sr., his mother Mary, as well as Tim’s wife Maranda and 5-month-old son, Asher.
And why not?
Now, many of us who have brought our infant on a short car trip in the middle of the night know that can be stressful, but in this case, why not celebrate?
And if you’re Phil, Sr. and you’re 85 and your son had just made history, again, wouldn’t it compel you to get out and greet him as he returned regardless of the hour?
“It’s just awesome,” Mickelson said. “For him to be able to see one more major championship like that, my dad’s a proud man in general and he’s very humble and quiet, but I’m sure he was probably shedding a couple tears for us Sunday.”
Even if it was just to give Phil and Tim hugs for five minutes, the moment represented a wonderful time in the Mickelsons lives.
Phil’s brilliant yet unpredictable game makes many of us at home nervous probably more than any other golfer we watch. Could you imagine the emotional rollercoaster Sunday’s final round would have been for his parents and family?
Phil’s sister Tina Mickelson shared on Twitter a hilarious text exchange she had with her mom as they both watched anxiously as Phil played on Sunday.
While you guys were busy on the golf course, I was busy fielding Mom’s “nervous texts”.😂 @PhilMickelson @goodwalkspoiled pic.twitter.com/ZyZZ5xvdRN
— Tina Mickelson (@TinaMickelson) May 24, 2021
“I obviously saw those (tweets) from my sister which was pretty cool, it was funny,” Mickleson said. “Obviously I wasn’t thinking about it during the day, but to be able to see those from my sister I thought was pretty neat and I’m sure that they were riding the highs and lows just like we were during the round.”
And once those ended the two brothers could celebrate on their cross-country flight to San Diego.
And how did that go?
“It was a celebratory glass of champagne and a glass of wine and just a lot of getting on our phones and responding to all the texts and looking at social media and then a little bit of a nap at the end,” Mickelson said.
“Towards the end of the flight — about 15 minutes before we landed in San Diego — once the adrenaline wore off and we let things settle in Phil said, ‘Holy crap, we actually did that today!’ And I just said ‘hell yes, we did.’”
Phil’s round certainly had some ups and downs for the brothers going through the pressure-cooker all day. After some mediocre iron shots through six holes, Tim seized the moment to tell Phil what he felt his boss needed to hear.
“Phil the entire week had been very focused and very committed on every swing and he would hit shots that he trusted, and about five times in those first few holes he basically said, ‘I didn’t trust it, it wasn’t a committed swing,’ and it led to some very mediocre results,” Mickelson said. “After Brooks had made birdie on six, right before we went to the tee I just pulled him over to the side and I said, ‘look bro, if you are going to win this tournament, you’re going to have to do it by making committed swings,’ and from there out he made a lot of committed swings.”
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Mickelson knows that none of this advice was earth-shattering, but it was something he as a caddie felt compelled to tell his player in the moment. Never mind that the player is the definition of an alpha and his older brother.
Mickelson doesn’t speak up during rounds much, but in this case he felt compelled to do so.
“I knew that the stakes were high enough that I needed to say something just to sort of change his mindset,” Mickelson said.
Phil Mickelson would shoot even par the rest of the way for a 1-over 73 on a very difficult course.
Of course, who could forget the the amazing sea of fans who swarmed Phil and Tim Mickeslon on the 18th as they walked to the green?
“I tried before he hit our second shot just to make sure everybody stayed behind him, I thought they would after the second shot, but as soon as I saw people running ahead I looked around and I’d already seen four officers around Phil, so I knew Phil was taken care of, then I was trying to lead the charge through the chaos, basically through the mosh-pit,” Mickelson said. “The next thing I know, I almost got trampled. I was about to fall forward but because somebody was in front of me, they kept me upright. I looked behind and I saw an officer sort of making his way through the crowd and I thought, ‘you know what, he’s the best person for me to walk behind,’ So I just followed and got right behind him and followed him through it.”
Not a bad idea considering the lack of other options. Mickelson felt thankful for the help from the officer.
“As soon as we got out I went straight to him and just said thank you because that was definitely a different scene to get through, but again it’s really cool to see the fans so supportive of Phil that week, the chants of ‘Lefty!’ coming down the stretch and the roars when he made a putt, to be able to be a part of that was so cool.”
One of the lasting images Tim saw of the crowd on 18 came not when he was out there but on the flight home when he saw the overhead blimp view from the highlights.
“The coolest thing I saw though was the aerial shot from the blimp that showed the scene of how many people were on that green on 18,” Mickelson said. “That was pretty cool to see from a different angle instead of being on the ground level of it.”
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 23, 2021
Being on the ground level on Sunday and especially on 18 brought an electric feel on that Sunday at Kiawah Island.
“It was incredible to have all of the chants of ‘Lefty!’ and ‘Go Phil!’ all that stuff coming down the stretch was incredible to be a part of and I’m very thankful to have been able to be a part of it and witness inside the ropes for a major championship win,” Mickelson said. “Obviously Phil and Bones had enjoyed five, but for me to experience it was absolutely incredible.”
While on the ground level, and after their emotional hug on the 18th green, Mickelson grabbed the pin flag on his way out.
“It was really cool, it’s a tradition in golf, the caddie gets the 18th hole flag for his player and that was not something I was going to screw up, especially in the moment,” Mickelson said, “so I made sure to put the flag by my bag and just left it there. As soon as the final putt went in I made sure to grab it. I didn’t want to jinx anything and put it away before all of it was said and done. But I was very happy to be able to put that in his bag and say, ‘don’t worry bro, I’ve got it in the bag already. I wanted to make sure that he knew it was taken care of.”
Where will the flag go?
“It’s completely up to him, the 18th hole flag is his, I’m going to try to get the 17th hole so I have one as well. He’s got a little trophy room so my guess is it will probably go in there somewhere,” Mickelson said.
Now that Mickelson is back home in San Diego briefly before their next start this week at Colonial, what’s on the agenda? Well, with a 5-month-old that decision is already made for Mickelson and his wife.
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“I’ll probably change a few diapers (today) and then put a pacifier in his mouth a few times to keep him quiet as he’s getting cranky and then just get ready to go back out to Colonial later (on Tuesday) to see if we can’t continue this run a little bit,” Mickelson said.
Of course the next start after Colonial is going to be Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open, the only major championship Phil needs to complete the career grand slam. Naturally, Tim is looking forward to that opportunity, especially so close to home.
“Obviously there’s only one tournament that Phil wants to win to cement his place in history and winning the U.S. Open would be it,” Mickelson said. “Being able to win the U.S. Open in his hometown at Torrey Pines would be absolutely incredible, so I’m going to do everything I can in my power to make sure that we have a good game plan. Hopefully we can stick to it and we’ll see how the chips may fall come Saturday and Sunday.”
As Mickelson looks back on his decision to leave player management and join his brother on Tour the last four years, he’s thankful and appreciative of what it’s done for his life and his family.
“It’s been an awesome run. I’m thankful for the opportunity from Phil because without Phil giving me that opportunity I would say there’s a very good chance I don’t meet my wife Maranda which means I also don’t have (son) Asher and those are two very, very special things in my life,” Mickelson said. “So it’s special to be able to have had that because I was able to get to the caddie world. The reason being is I was working so hard that I never allowed myself to take time to have a solid relationship, and by having some time off that allowed me the opportunity to do so.”
Lastly, we’ve heard so much about Phil’s strict diet and the things he’s had to give up to transform his body in recent months, including fasting thirty-six hours every week. So if you’re the little brother like Tim, do you take that as an opportunity to make Phil jealous of the food you’re allowed to eat? If so, what food does he tease him about?
“It’s probably just the candy that I eat in front of him,” Mickelson said. “The Sour Patch kids, the sour-punch straws, the cherry sours, the Starbursts, the redlines, all that stuff that’s my weakness so I definitely seem to eat plenty of it in front of him.”
Brothers will be brothers.