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May 07, 2012
A near-death experience involving his wife and newborn son in 2003 served as an epiphany for Phil Mickelson. Since then the four-time major champion has quietly used his wealth and position to better the lives of a wide variety of people. Here are their stories
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May 07, 2012

Touched By Phil

A near-death experience involving his wife and newborn son in 2003 served as an epiphany for Phil Mickelson. Since then the four-time major champion has quietly used his wealth and position to better the lives of a wide variety of people. Here are their stories

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Despite the challenges of navigating a rain-softened course, David insisted on following Mickelson for the rest of the week. Mickelson continued to acknowledge the presence of his newest fan with an occasional smile, a nod or a thumbs-up. He won that PGA with a 72nd-hole birdie, as David cheered him on from a handicapped seating area behind the green. It was a hugely important moment in Mickelson's career, as the victory validated his breakthrough at the previous year's Masters. Yet in the heady minutes immediately after his triumph Mickelson thought of a kid he barely knew. Mackay hustled over to say his boss was wondering if David would like to have a picture taken with the Wanamaker Trophy. The moment was recorded by the Newark Star-Ledger: Phil has the trophy in one hand, and the other is placed tenderly on the left shoulder of David, whose head is thrown back in ecstasy.

Thus began a friendship that endures to this day. Every year David and his parents attend the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship to root for Mickelson, and he invariably finds them in the gallery. David, in turn, has transformed his bedroom into a shrine to golf in general and Mickelson in particular. The signed glove is preserved behind glass. Above his bed is a 2007 Presidents Cup flag autographed by the U.S. team, while another wall displays a windbreaker from the 2010 Ryder Cup. (Mackay has been instrumental in procuring these souvenirs.) David loves to look through a tattered photo album of his PGA Tour adventures, which his three older sisters call The Book of Phil. The book also contains a picture from 2008, when Mackay came to the house for dinner.

For the upcoming summer vacation David is advocating that the family rent an RV and follow the Tour from town to town, a fanciful idea that his parents are considering. "We don't know what the future holds for Dave," says John. "It would be a great experience for all of us. The world is a nicer place when you're traveling with Dave. He brings out the best in people."

Still, the Finns are not immune to golf's cruelty. This year's Easter dinner was a little glum after Mickelson's triple bogey at the 4th hole cost him a shot at a fourth Masters victory. But David is very much looking forward to watching the telecast of the Hall of Fame ceremonies. Asked why he thought Mickelson was deserving of the honor, David spelled out an impressive response: "Phil is the Arnold Palmer of today." David's father gently chastised him for parroting something they had heard on Golf Channel. David thought a bit longer. With great determination, he tapped, "Phil was the first person to make me feel special."

The Teacher

At first blush, Mirandi Squires has not traveled very far in life. She grew up on the eastern edge of South Carolina, in Georgetown County, what was then a land of dirt roads and tobacco fields. Throughout high school she had a 9 p.m. curfew, and on the eve of her wedding, when she was 21, Mirandi had to be home by 11. The mother of three now commutes to Johnsonville, a two-stoplight town 25 minutes from that childhood home. But through her innovative teaching, Mirandi has brought a new frontier of ideas to Johnsonville Elementary School. In a state that in recent years has seen squabbles about creationism in the legislature and on textbook committees, Mirandi remains committed to what she calls "the magic of science. I want the kids to know that it can open up the world to them."

Her gifted and talented third-graders consider donning a lab coat and protective glasses a routine part of the school day. To drive home the point that sound is actually vibration, Mirandi recently had her students dip a tuning fork into a cup of water, leading to some very surprised, and very wet, kids. A lesson on composting has resulted in a plastic crate crawling with worms taking up residence in one corner of the classroom. To better understand scale, the kids made out of construction paper a 10-foot-tall Yeti that still looms over them. Mirandi does daily presentations that are run through the first iPad anyone in Johnsonville had ever seen.

"She's not afraid to go outside our little box and bring in new ideas, new methods," says Randy Meekins, Johnsonville Elementary's assistant principal. "It means so much to our kids. They're getting a world-class education right here in this tiny little town."

Mirandi is in her 24th year of teaching, but it was in 2009 that, she says, "I learned how to see things through a new lens." It all began when a student of hers, Erin Altman, was watching golf with her father. "We saw an ad for Phil Mickelson's teachers' academy," says Erin, "and I just knew Miss Squires had to go. It was like destiny."

Next thing Mirandi knew she was on an airplane for the first time, at age 42. Every summer the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy selects 600 teachers from around the country for a week of intensive math and science instruction. The academy has outposts in Houston, New Orleans and Jersey City. The trips are all-expenses-paid, and Mirandi was thrilled to have a view of the New York City skyline from her hotel suite. The teachers are given stacks of lesson plans and materials, with an emphasis on dynamic, hands-on learning. "Everything we were taught was to bring science and math to life," Mirandi says. A point of emphasis was encouraging students to keep a journal; in Johnsonville her kids keep notebooks bursting with diagrams, charts, chunks of prose and various materials they've glued to the pages.

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