January 22, 2014
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson has won the Farmers Insurance Open three times. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Believe it or not, Phil Mickelson is playing in the Farmers Insurance Open this week for the 25th time in his career.
Teeing it up before the home crowd, on a course where he used to play high school matches, never gets old for the three-time champ and World Golf Hall of Famer.
"This will never be just another event for me because every time I play here I think about when I was a kid with my father watching the guys play and standing outside the ropes dreaming of being inside it," Mickelson said.
And the player he always loved to watch? Not surprisingly, Mickelson's choice was the late Seve Ballesteros, who played the game with the same kind of flair the big left-hander came to embrace.
Mickelson's first opportunity to play with Ballesteros came in 1988 when he was 17 and had won one of the two spots available in the amateur qualifying for the PGA TOUR event. The Spaniard was making what turned out to be his second -- and final -- appearance at Torrey Pines.
Ernie Gonzalez, a San Diegan who was playing the TOUR at the time, arranged a practice round for Mickelson with Ballesteros. The Spaniard did not disappoint.
"So often you'll look up to certain people and when you finally meet them it will be a letdown, but Seve was never a letdown," Mickelson said. "I had a chance to spend a lot of time with Seve over the years We were with Hugo Boss in a number of photo shoots together, played practice rounds together, and from day one when I played with him he was gracious, classy, entertaining, exciting to watch and helpful and he was never a letdown."
Mickelson's only regret that day? He didn't get in Ballesteros' pocket.
"He didn't keep score -- he would hit two or three balls and he would pick up," Mickelson explained.
"I actually wanted a little game, but that didn't pan out," he added with a grin.