Monday, April 11, 2011

April 11, 2010: For Family

When I started the countdown of greatest daily sports moments, I knew I'd have some fairly lame days. Not every day could have an exciting or historic sports moment. That would just be asking too much.

My first one came 11 days in, on April 11, when I had to settle for the final game for both Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. I mean, really? That's the best I could find? I didn't even know they had ever been teammates until I was scrambling to find something, anything, to put for April 11.

Then Phil came to the rescue.

His second shot on the 13th hole in the final round of the 2010 Masters would have been enough to knock Howe and Hull out of this day's spot if Mickelson had won that tournament. But then he hugged his wife, tears flowing down his cheeks, and dedicated the win to her, and that was it. The most emotional golf victory in years had to make the cut. The last time I changed the best moment of a day was a somewhat difficult decision. This one was a slam dunk.

AUGUSTA, Ga. - How did he have the courage to even try that shot? Behind three trees, ball sitting on pine straw, the distant green protected by a creek designed to gobble up any shot hit short.

It seemed like the textbook definition of when a golfer should lay up, not try to be the hero but just survive to the next hole. Nobody would have blamed Phil Mickelson for making the safe play.

But Mickelson didn't become a household name in golf by taking the safe play. For years, he both delighted and frustrated his fans with his often reckless play, getting into and out of trouble with amazing frequency.

Still, though, now that he was older and had a few majors under his belt, you'd think he'd play it safe. So what inspired him to hit that incredible shot on the 13th at Augusta? What gave him the confidence that he could get it anywhere close to the hole? How on earth did he get that shot within three feet?

Five holes later, we saw the answer. After Mickelson sank the putt on 18 to clinch his third Masters title, he walked off the green and hugged his wife, Amy. And the tears started to flow. And we knew. We knew where he found the strength and the courage. He looked at her, following him on the golf course for the first time since she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and he saw her strength. That's where he got his.

Mickelson has won four majors in his career, and likely isn't done. He's hit many incredible shots, celebrated dozens of victories. But he'll always be remembered for the 2010 Masters, and his shot from behind the trees, and the tears that came afterward.

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