Note to readers: It will enhance your enjoyment of this column if you play O.M.D.'s "If You Leave" while reading. Thank you.
I hate an unfulfilling end to a movie. There are few things more unsatisfying than emotionally investing in a film, only to reach the end and see a character make a decision that seems contrary to the way they've been depicted in said movie. A perfect example of this is the ending of "Pretty in Pink." Jon Cryer's Duckie Dale dotes on Molly Ringwald's Andie Walsh, yet at the end she still opts to pair up with Andrew McCarthy's Blane McDonnagh. Duckie devotes his whole life to making Andie happy, spending time with her pathetic father (played brilliantly by Harry Dean Stanton) and attempting to save Andie from ridicule at the hands of Blane's rich and judgmental cronies ... yet at the end of the film she leaves the Duckman standing in her wake as she walks off arm-in-arm with Blane.
I never thought I would receive closure to this cinematic atrocity, but I finally did. Oddly enough, my salvation was delivered when Phil Mickelson won his first major golf tournament on a beautiful April afternoon in Augusta.
The flowers they never sent
Phil "Lefty" Mickelson had gone 0 for 42 in major golf tournaments before Sunday, April 11. Golf fans the world over made Lefty the punch line to their jokes and wondered aloud if Phil would ever shed the label of "best golfer to never win a major." Sure, Mickelson had won 22 times on the PGA tour; to be sure, the competition on tour is brutal, and to win 22 times a golfer must be on top of his game. But the Big One (or ones) always proved elusive, with Mickelson always managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Unfortunately, these losses were usually self-induced -- Phil would make a risky attempt when a more conservative shot might have been the smarter play, for instance -- but that's the kind of golf he plays. Golf has four tournaments that are considered "majors": the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. The events and courses on which they are held have little in common, other than the fact that Phil Mickelson hasn't conquered any of them.
Of course, no sporting event would be complete without a little drama for your mama. Just as James Spader's character in "Pretty in Pink" tried to bust up Andie and Blane's romantic bliss, Ernie Els did his best to keep Phil Mickelson winless in the majors. All Ernie did was fire two eagles in his final round and shoot a blazing five-under-par 67. Unfortunately for the laid-back South African (and current Lake Nona resident ... hi, Ernie!), it was simply Phil's time. As Els himself said, "Phil deserved this one. He didn't lose this one like some of the other ones. He won this one." Other ones? Oh yes, Phil was twice a runner-up at the U.S. Open, had another second-place finish at the PGA Championship and four third-place finishes at the Masters. Imagine being good enough in your field of expertise to make a living, be ranked at or near the top in most categories, yet have the reputation of not being able to get the job done when it comes to the really big deals. You'd feel worse than Duckie watching Andie move to the dance floor with Blane, wouldn't you?
That's the end of the joke
To be honest, I was one of the doubters for a long time. Even though in my heart I would root for Mickelson, I sincerely felt that he lacked the mental toughness to get over the hump in the major golf tournaments. I thought the same thing was going to happen on Easter Sunday at Augusta. There was Phil, that appreciative smile on his face as he ground his way through the final holes. When I saw him making eye contact with people in the gallery, I thought, "This guy is losing it!"
He approached the 18th hole tied with Ernie Els, needing a birdie or better to avoid a playoff (which Els would almost certainly win). Phil crushed a 3-wood off the tee, and then hit his approach to about 18 feet. As he lumbered up the 18th fairway, it looked like he was actually working the gallery! Here's a guy who has never won a major, yet he looked like he had been in this movie before. I was reminded of Duckie belting out "Try a Little Tenderness" to Andie at her place of employment (luckily for her, a record store). Duckie had never had a girl like Andie, and Phil had never won a major, yet both faced this hopeless adversity with a carefree zeal that made you want them to succeed in a big way.
And there we are. The big dance is here. Andie's got a choice to make: the rich snob Blane, who disses her when his snooty friends are around? Or Duckie, who pledges undying love and support? Will Phil make the 18-footer for birdie, or succumb to the pressure as he had done so many times before? There stands Duckie, telling Andie to go ahead and go with Blane. Mickelson lines up the putt and strokes it. Andie and Blane walk off arm in arm as Duckie finds consolation in a random beautiful blonde? What the hell? Mickelson's putt finds the left edge of the hole, squirts around to the right side and ... mercifully, drops in the cup! Phil Mickelson does the "white-boy dork hop" celebratory dance, embraces his daughter and becomes the best player to not win a major who finally won the Big One.
I always knew we'd meet again ... someday.