The horrible "best golfer never to win a major" tag hung around Phil Mickelson's neck for years. His second-place finish in the 1999 U.S. Open to Payne Stewart hours before the birth of his first child and months before Stewart's death was emblematic of Mickelson's career.
Sunday wasn't a bad day for a guy who was considered for years to be a loveable loser.
The horrible "best golfer never to win a major" tag hung around Phil Mickelson's neck for years.
His second-place finish in the 1999 U.S. Open to Payne Stewart hours before the birth of his first child and months before Stewart's death was emblematic of Mickelson's career.
He was a great golfer and a great competitor.
But when the pressure got turned up on his risk-reward style, his imagination often seemed to outpace his ability leaving him on the outside looking in.
But he smiled through it all.
The guy is grounded. He knew that second place in a few majors and winning dozens of other tournaments created a great lifestyle for him and his family.
He had great parents, a beautiful wife and a great young family. His name wasn't on a major trophy, yet. He saw the big picture.
I'll never forget a trip my wife and I took to Orlando in March 2000.
We had a big week planned, but the biggest event for me was getting to see a round at the Bay Hill Invitational - Arnold Palmer's tournament. That wasn't until Thursday. So we went to Universal Studios Orlando on Wednesday.
As we walked from one attraction to another, I saw Mickelson with his wife, Amy, and their young daughter. I pointed them out to my wife, and she thought I might have been mistaken.
On Thursday, the day started off rainy, but it didn't dampen my excitement. Tiger Woods and Mickelson were only a few groups apart during the round. I planned the day to get us far enough in front that we were up close and personal when the best golfer in the game (Woods) and my personal favorite (Mickelson) came through.
Woods blew through with a 64 on his way to winning the tournament for the first time. Mickelson shot a 67 in the first round, but didn't finish well that week by his standards.
After the two finished their rounds, my long appreciation for Mickelson was justified.
Woods hit some putts and left the course with no interaction with the public.
Mickelson spent some time putting but then stood for more than an hour signing memorabilia for fans.
The line was long and I reasoned that he would never stay long enough to get to the end of that line. I was ready to just walk away.
My wife knew I would want an autograph, so she took matters into her own hands. She jumped into an open space in the line and hustled her way through the crowd to Mickelson. To say this is out of character for her is an understatement.
But when Mickelson got to her, she didn't stop with getting my Bay Hill hat signed.
"Did you take your family to Universal Studios yesterday?" she asked.
Mickelson seemed knocked off guard by the question. He look up from the hat and said, "Yes. I did."
After asking if they had fun during the day and exchanging pleasantries, she closed with, "Your wife is beautiful."
Mickelson had a huge smile come across his face and said, "Yes she is. Thank you."
Did I mention that he didn't make a dime for all the time he spent there with fans? In fact, he only made $8,250 for the entire tournament.
But he took the time. He was generous with his time and friendly with the fans.
There is a reason he had a legion of fans before his major tournament trophy case started filling up. When Mickelson's mother and wife were both diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago, those fans and friends rallied to offer support.
"Phil is so generous, and he's a great guy," fellow PGA golfer Anthony Kim said Monday. "They (Amy and Phil Mickelson) are great people. I wish them all the best."
Mickelson's talent is rivaled by few. His willingness to interact with fans is also uncommon. The combination in today's world is unfathomable.
The story this week was supposed to be Tiger Woods overcoming his self-induced personal problems and getting back to golf.
Instead of a man trying to rebuild his family and his life, Sunday proved to be a celebration of a man and his family who have kept it together despite everything that life has thrown at them.
Mickelson and his wife's embrace after the 18th hole stole the show and turned Woods' return into a sideshow.
It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
Kent Bush is publisher of the Augusta (Kan.) Gazette.