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TOUCHED BY Phil
ALAN SHIPNUCK
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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On March 23, 2003, a son and a larger purpose were born to Phil Mickelson. His boy, Evan, didn't take a breath during his first seven minutes outside the womb, and Phil stood over him in the delivery room pleading, "Breathe, Evan, breathe." On the other side of the room Phil's college sweetheart, Amy, had ruptured an artery in her uterus during the delivery and was in danger of bleeding to death. While his wife and son fought for their lives, Phil was swept into a hallway by the medical staff. He sat alone on a bench, his head in his hands, praying. Then he made a covenant that if his loved ones were saved, he would lead a more purposeful life.

Evan and Amy rallied—she would later beat breast cancer—and Phil has made good on his promise. Next week he will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, in recognition of his four major championships and 40 career PGA Tour victories (ninth all time), but if there was a hall dedicated to good deeds he would have been enshrined long ago. He has touched people's lives through random acts of kindness and bold philanthropic initiatives, all of it done quietly, which is the way Mickelson prefers. "He does a lot of stuff I know nothing about," says Jim Mackay, his close friend and careerlong caddie.

Mickelson, 41, has always enjoyed a deeply personal connection with his fans, thanks to his interaction on the course and the endless autographs he signs when the round is over. (He is also beloved in the service industry because of a penchant for dispensing $100 tips.) In the wake of Evan's harrowing delivery, Mickelson has become an agent of change, beginning with an eponymous foundation that does not solicit outside contributions. Mickelson is a science nerd and the son of an Air Force pilot, so supporting education and providing for military veterans have become twin passions. In recent years he has found other creative ways to give back. "I'm lucky to be in a position to help," Mickelson says, and he'd like to leave it at that. It is up to others to tell of his impact outside of golf.

The Teenager

David Finn was born in the wrong body. The 19-year-old from River Edge, N.J., suffers from a mitochondrial disorder that has left his limbs shriveled and his mouth unable to form words. But a broken body can't suppress the powerful spirit within. David's bright blue eyes convey intelligence and an eagerness to connect. He has a beatific smile and a honking laugh that supports a sophisticated sense of humor. "One of his teachers liked to say that David was the only kid who ever got his jokes," says his father, John. Attached to David's wheelchair is a piece of paper printed with a grid of the alphabet, allowing him to communicate by tapping out words with his crooked fingers. He was a determined enough student to make it through River Dell High, and on graduation day last June he was rewarded with a rousing standing ovation.

He has continued his education at Horizon School, which offers specialized curriculum for students with disabilities, as well as Bergen Community College. A point of emphasis for David is improving his ability to communicate. At Horizon he uses a touch-screen computer with a speaker that articulates whatever David is typing. Recently he was offering a demonstration for a visiting reporter. Asked how he was feeling, David patiently tapped out the perfect answer: "On the spot."

Later he was asked by his speech therapist, Brittany Arrington, "If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?" David could have chosen to dunk a basketball or slow-dance with Kate Upton or sing at Carnegie Hall. Instead he tapped, "Go to the Masters."

Pound for pound, David Finn might be the world's biggest golf fan. "He starts watching with the pregame show on Thursday and doesn't stop until there's a winner on Sunday night," says his mother, Vanessa.

David's love affair with the game began at the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club, a 45-minute drive from the family's house. During a Tuesday practice round David was parked in his wheelchair behind the 14th green when Mickelson came through. After putting out he walked over to David and said, "Hi, buddy, thanks for coming. Here's a souvenir for you." He laid an autographed glove in David's lap.

Says John, "So many people don't know how to act around the severely disabled. Pity is the worst possible emotion. The glove was a wonderful gesture, but what made that moment so meaningful was that Phil treated Dave like a normal kid, which is all he wants. Phil gets it. The ease and the grace he displayed says a lot about who he is."

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