Mickelson is a big hitter with go-for-it tendencies, and that doesn't hurt with the galleries either. The strengths of his game, though, are wedge play and putting, both honed on the practice green his father built behind their San Diego home 20 years ago. No one hits greenside lobs with more confidence than Mickelson, who can drop the ball in a grasshopper's pocket anywhere inside 30 yards. His full swing is unfashionably long and loose at the top, but Reinmuth says Mickelson's occasional wildness owes more to a tendency to "get fast" than to wristiness.
"Phil's at a point now where he basically teaches himself," says Reinmuth. "When he has trouble, he just has to come back and check out the parameters we established a long time ago."
Is guts a parameter? In the final round at Tucson, leading by a stroke, Mickelson shot a snowman in the desert—a triple bogey 8 on the 14th hole at the TPC at StarPass. He could have melted away himself, but Mickelson birdied 16 and 18 to edge Tom Purtzer and Bob Tway by a stroke. "I've never seen anyone come back from something like that," said Tour veteran Corey Pavin, who played with Mickelson in the final group.
It's all school for Mickelson. He prepared for the Masters by studying tapes of Nicklaus winning his sixth green jacket, in 1986. He reviews his press conference answers with his college coach, Steve Loy, striving for the right blend of humility and sassiness. The major championships, the Tour events, are for now simply laboratories where Mickelson can gain confidence and measure progress. There's no hurry to be the next Nicklaus, the next Palmer, the next anybody.
"When I was five years old," says Mickelson, "I played because I wanted to, not because 15 years down the road I'd have a chance to turn pro and make a couple of hundred thousand dollars."
Mark 'em down. They are the words of a young man racing toward certain fame and fortune, but at a snail's pace.