St. Augustine, Florida: Phil Mickelson loved golf before he was old enough to walk and swing a club. It took him on a thrilling ride of major championships and a few spectacular crashes, eventually leading to his induction on Monday into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Mickelson was inducted with two-time major champion Sandy Lyle of Scotland, writer Dan Jenkins, British player-turned-broadcaster Peter Alliss, and four-time LPGA major champion Hollis Stacy. That brought membership in the Hall of Fame to 141, nearly half of them since it moved to the World Golf Village in 1998.
It was the second straight year that a player still among the top 20 in the world ranking went into the Hall of Fame, Mickelson this year, Ernie Els in 2011. Lefty allowed himself to pause for a night to reflect on two decades of golf, starting with his first PGA Tour win while still at Arizona State.
Mickelson congratulated the others in his class and said, "They can attest that you can't start fulfilling your dreams until you dream big."
Jenkins and Alliss provided the laughs.
Jenkins, who has covered 210 majors dating to the 1951 U.S. Open, is the third writer in the Hall of Fame, but the first who was alive to give an acceptance speech, or as Jenkins said, "I'm particularly pleased to be taken in as a vertical human."
Jenkins recalled a different era of golf, when there was not such a gap between the sportsman and the journalists. He said he wrote about 93 members of the Hall of Fame, drank with 47 of them and played golf with 24 of them, most of those rounds with his hero, Ben Hogan.
He figured his best big moment would be his funeral, and he already knew what to put on his tombstone: "I knew this would happen."
Alliss won 23 times on the European Tour and played on eight Ryder Cup teams until he switched over to the BBC, and his straight talk and brilliant command of the language made him perhaps the most recognizable voice of golf around the world. He worked his 50th consecutive British Open last year.
He also became the first inductee to flip the bird.
He ended a wonderful tale of golf and his career with a short about the headmistress at his school, Violet Weymouth, who wrote in her final report of his studies that "Peter does have a brain, but he's rather loathe to use it. I fear for his future."
His parents died long ago.
"And if there is such a thing as heaven and if people do look down, well, mom and dad, here we are. Look at this lot. Look where I've been. Look what I've done. Never worked very hard at it, but it's all fallen into place.
"And Mrs. Weymouth, if you're there." Alliss held up his middle finger.
Mickelson was the last to be inducted, the biggest name of this class with his 42 wins around the world. He was elected on the PGA Tour ballot, a career that includes the Masters three times, one PGA Championship, two World Golf Championships, eight Ryder Cup teams and every Presidents Cup team since it began in 1994.
He talked about his family as part of a timeline in golf. There were memories of his oldest daughter born after the first of his record five runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, the blonde curls of his second daughter, Sophia, whom he told, "Daddy won!" after his first major at the Masters. He told of the 2005 PGA Championship win, how son Evan was high-fiving the New Jersey state troopers.
And he paid tribute to the thousands of fans he made along the way in a career that has made Mickelson a modern-day Arnold Palmer for his go-for-broke style on the golf course and the way he makes every fan feel special by looking them in the eye or signing countless autographs.
"There have been a lot of times where I've struggled, and it's been their energy that's helped pull me through," Mickelson said. "I've tried to reciprocate by launching drive after drive in their general direction."
Mickelson choked up with emotion talking about the only caddie he's ever had as a pro, Jim "Bones" Mackay, and Steve Loy, his college coach who turned into his business manager. It was Loy who introduced Mickelson as the "People's Choice."
In a rare moment, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem did not give a brief "State of Golf" as he has done over the years at the induction ceremony. Instead, he saluted Mickelson for projecting golf's image as well as anyone.
"I would like to thank him in addition for being a role model, a role model for young players coming up, and a role model for people who play the game of golf just for fun, because you've never seen Phil Mickelson on or off the golf course that he wasn't showing the proper professionalism that you want to see in any athlete, particularly an athlete in our sport," Finchem said.
"I think only Arnold Palmer maybe could be classified as better at enthusing our fans and having the fans fall in love with him. The way he interacts with the fans, the way he signs for the fans, the way he catches the fans' attention, the way he gives them eye contact, the way he shakes their hands when he has the opportunity."
Perhaps it was only fitting that on the walkway at the World Golf Village, with the signatures of Hall of Fame members etched in stone, Mickelson's name is on the stone right next to Palmer.
"Arnold was a guy I really looked up to and tried to emulate and admired the way he played the game, the way he handled himself, the way he treated other professionals and everybody," Mickelson said before the ceremony. "From the first time I played the U.S. Open in 1994 at Oakmont, which was his final one, watching him treat the volunteers to an hour-and-a-half discussion and autograph session, picture session, when he didn't have to do it, he just thanked them for all of their contributions."
Mickelson will be among the favorites at The Players Championship this week, and while Mickelson believes the minimum age should go from 40 to 50, he allowed himself to soak up a Hall of Fame career, still in progress, when he drove to the World Golf Hall of Fame with his wife.
"We've really had a pretty great life experience these last 20 years, the things we've shared," Mickelson said before the ceremony. "And what's great is that I feel like at his age, we can still have more. It was really a fun time for us to share just talking on the drive over here what the game has meant to us and what these last 20 years have brought to us, because we don't really slow down and reminisce and think about it because we're just right in the thick of it."
Lyle, elected on the International ballot, won 29 times around the world, including the 1985 British Open and the 1988 Masters with a 7-iron out of the bunker on the 18th hole for a birdie to become the first British winner of the green jacket. Lyle also played on five Ryder Cup teams.
Jenkins and Alliss were selected through the Lifetime Achievement category, while Stacy was chosen through the Veterans Category.