A Tale of Two Tour Pros

This is the story of two disparate Tour pros, Mr. Million Dollar smile and multi-million dollar player, Phil Mickelson, and Tour, hard-luck sophomore, Scott Stallings. One withdrew from The Memorial Tournament and one is leading and history and logic play no place in those two outcomes.

Phil Mickelson has had a fabulous year so far. He won at Pebble Beach and lost in the playoff at Riviera. He was T3 at Augusta and he’s made $2.8 million so far this year.

Scott Stallings broke through in his rookie year last year improbably getting into and then winning a three-way playoff at the Greenbriar. When you win on the PGA Tour, good things happen. You get into the season-opening Hyundai in Maui, you get into virtually any tournament you want to for a year, and most important, you get into the Masters.

But misfortune struck Stallings at the Humana in Palm Springs:

The Tuesday morning of Humana, which was, I think, January 18th, I tore cartilage in five of my ribs and didn’t know it was torn at the time, thought we just strained some muscles or intercostals [muscles between the ribs] or something like that.  I played a few more events and was miserable, it was hurting every swing, and my doctor in Tennessee called and said, “You need to come home, we need to do an MRI,” and found out the cartilage was torn.  Ended up spending six weeks kind of dealing with that.

He missed the subsequent cuts in Phoenix and at Pebble Beach. He took five weeks off and then missed the cut in Tampa, managed a T48 at Bay Hill and a surprising T27 at the Masters. But at least he got to play in his first Masters. The injury saga continues:

Then to try to grind through the Masters and get through on painkillers and stuff like that.  Somehow I played halfway decent, so it’s been kind of a struggle getting through that.

I wasn’t able to work out, wasn’t able to do the things you need to do to play against the best players in the world.  Now I’m cleared and happy to be able to play injury free.

But before he was cleared he missed six cuts in a row…the last six tournaments he played in. To date he’s made just 3 of 14 cuts and had to withdraw from the Humana when he hurt his ribs. He’s made just $146,600 on the year:

Yeah, it’s discouraging, but at the end of the day, if the worst thing in my life I have to complain about is a couple bad rounds of golf, I’ll be all right.

I remember when I finally took the time off to go and get healthy, I was pretty miserable.  I kind of started to feel sorry for myself and this and that, and I remember sitting at home, and I got a phone call from Zach Johnson, and he said, “You’re going to look back on it and it’s going to be one of the best times of your life.”  My wife and I were home for 35 days straight.  It’s not very often a PGA TOUR player is at home in the middle of the season for 35 days.  We just hung out and tried to get healthy.  I was pretty limited on what I could doing physically.

Coming back out on the road, I’m starting to feel stronger and stronger every day.  I was allowed to work out.  I started working out again the Tuesday of Byron Nelson, which was almost exactly five months.  So those first few events coming back basically I was limited in the amount of practice I could do, just basically show up and try to play my way into some form.

The unfortunate thing about the PGA TOUR is you don’t really get any kind of rehab, you get thrown back into the fire, so you find out where you stand really fast.

But I knew I was doing the right things.  I had some really good people around me that kept me positive and kept me doing the things I need to do.  Every day it’s a blessing to be out here, and that’s kind of the attitude I took towards it.

And it wasn’t like he was really ready to come back out from a competitive point. It’s not just the injury, it’s the doubt the injury creates:

A lot of doubt, a lot of, is this going to hurt, is it not going to hurt.  Any time you’re dealing with an injury that involves any type of ribs or any type of side like that, especially when you’re in a sport where there’s a lot of torque put on your torso or anything like that, that’s one of the injuries that you never know.  And there’s no real thing ‑‑ there’s no real therapy, there’s no surgery, there’s not really anything you can do.  It’s just a matter of time.

It’s frustrating because you go day in and day out, because some days it feels good, some days it doesn’t.  But it’s feeling as good as it’s felt in a long time.

And with all of that going on, Scott Stallings went out and shot the low round of the day on Thursday and leads the tournament by one with his 66:

I mean, it’s big.  Any time your round ‑‑ everybody talks about leading a golf tournament, this and that.  I mean, that’s secondary.  You’re trying to play your way in [to the weekend] and hopefully have an opportunity on Sunday.  That’s all these guys are out here doing.

It’s nice to play a round like this and be winning a golf tournament, but it goes a lot more than winning a golf tournament for me.  I mean, I was out there, I competed for 18 holes, I stayed in my shots.  My pre‑shot routine was great the whole entire day.  And kind of getting back into being competitive and not really having any kind of external things affecting you, whether it’s injury, whether it’s the amount of time off or the amount of time you’re practicing, it’s something that’s pretty nice to feel out there.

Contrasted with that jubilant, hopeful day was the day from hell for Phil Mickelson. He shot a disastrous 7-over, 79 and withdrew from the tournament:

After I played three weeks in a row, I played Charlotte, THE PLAYERS and the Nelson, I went straight to Europe to celebrate Amy’s 40th.  I came back and had a Tuesday outing in Long Island, the pro‑am [Wednesday], and I think mentally I’m a little bit fatigued.

So the course here is in such great shape.  It’s a beautiful way to get ready for the U.S. Open.  But I’m hitting it so poorly that I think that for me to ‑‑ I have to look at what’s best for me to play in the U.S. Open, and I’m going to take the next few days to kind of rest up.  I’ll probably go see Butch and see if I can get things straightened out.

But certainly I’m disappointed with how I played today, but I think I need ‑‑ I’ve got to be more big picture oriented and think about the Open and what’s best to get my best golf out there, and I need the next few days to rest up a bit.

Later in his interview, he was asked if there was more than just fatigue, were there also distractions?

I think it was more that mentally I wasn’t able to focus as well from the last month more than anything.

Later, in a story by Doug Ferguson writing for the AP, more details of Phil’s withdrawal came to light:

The bigger picture might have been the fans in the gallery using their cellphones for photos of Mickelson, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. Mickelson has a peculiar way of sending a message, though he danced around a question of whether distractions played a role. He said only he struggled to focus from a busy month.

Watson and Fowler painted a different picture.

“It took Phil out of his game,” Watson said.

Fowler, a little more diplomatic, said the players had to restart their pre-shot routines because of the phone cameras.

“You could see Phil was a little fatigued and was having trouble blocking it out a bit,” Fowler said.

As Paul Azinger tweeted in the aftermath of all of this, Mickelson is an independent contractor and can do whatever he thinks is in his best interest. But he surely provoked the ire of many of the fans who used such words as, “quitter.”

And I have to say, this whole episode, particularly jetting off to Paris in the middle of the season, reminded me of my earlier post just this week, “Is Commitment on the Wane?

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