Phil Mickelson's dance ad creates a stir
8 Min Read
Written by Mike McAllister @PGATOUR_MikeMc
Phil can do the worm.
With those five magical words, Kevin Lavelle knew the idea he was nervously proposing to Phil Mickelson – a commercial video shoot requiring the 48-year-old Mickelson to perform a choreographed dance to demonstrate the benefits of Mizzen+Main’s performance fabric dress shirts – would become a reality.
It was actually Amy Mickelson who uttered the words during a June meeting that included her husband; his agent Steve Loy; and of course Lavelle, the CEO of Mizzen+Main. Lavelle had only recently began working with Phil and certainly wasn’t comfortable enough to know if his proposal would be treated seriously or simply rejected as complete lunacy. But then he heard Amy’s admission.
Phil can do the worm.
“Pretty extraordinary five words to hear,” Lavelle said Friday.
That’s because the fallout from the 37-second commercial, which was released the day before, also has been extraordinary. The reaction of seeing Mickelson bust a few moves – yes, including the worm -- while dodging a fusillade of special effects-generated golf balls whizzing by his head has given Mizzen+Main more publicity than it imagined.
The company’s social media accounts reported more than one million impressions. News shows such as “Good Morning America” and networks such as CNN ran segments on the video. Mainstream sports channels, as well as the Golf Channel, were all over it.
There's even been a "sizable lift" in sales in the first 24 hours of the video's release.
“Awesome. Really awesome,” Lavelle said. “It has been absolutely wild. Been a lot of fun to see how much fun people are having. The amount of engagement has been extraordinary.”
Of course, the video spread quickly among Mickelson’s fellow golfers, who by now realize that “Phil being Phil” often extends beyond the golf course.
Kevin Kisner, in fact, had seen Mickelson’s moves before.
The two friends and teammates choreographed a “Three Amigos” dance at the 2017 Presidents Cup, which they performed on the 18th green at Liberty National. But even Kisner was not prepared for Mickelson to take it up a notch.
“I thought it was pretty funny,” Kisner said from the practice green at Firestone South, home of this week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. “It’s like he said, sometimes you’ve got to laugh at yourself. I don’t think he’s too worried about it. When I pulled into the parking lot and looked over at him, he was doing the dance.”
Matt Kuchar was not shocked to see Mickelson dance. He was shocked, though, to see him go public with it.
"We've all seen it before," Kuchar said Friday. "We're just all in shock -- all in shock that he actually put it out there for public consumption.
"I've seen some interesting things out of Phil. I didn't think we would see the dance moves become public. Anytime anybody tries to bring out a cell phone when Phil's doing something in the team room, it'd get shot down. This doesn't leave. Nobody's having a record of this. Then to see him mass-produce his own dance video, it's not something I expected to see."
Mickelson was in a jovial mood as he made the scene on the Firestone practice area Friday morning, smiling at fans and cameras and asking how everyone was doing.
Long one of the most popular players in the game, he is no stranger to the spotlight, sometimes with an assist from Madison Avenue. His long-ago “What will Phil do next” campaign for Ford transcended the usual car ads because it so perfectly captured Mickelson’s swing-from-the-heels playing style.
This time, Mickelson said, he had to dig deep. He first wore the long-sleeved shirt for a practice round at the Masters in April, and it immediately got people talking. It also elicited Mickelson’s self-deprecating comments about his status as a “slightly overweight, middle-aged guy.” The shirt was already creating buzz.
Mickelson then became an equity holder in the company, and he wore the long-sleeved shirt during competition at THE PLAYERS Championship. Mizzen+Main were excited to kick off the partnership with Mickelson as their spokesman. Creative director Richard Ross then approached Lavelle with what he called the perfect idea.
It involved Mickelson dancing in front of a green screen to the song “Vibrate” by Ghostland Observatory. The imaginary golf balls would be added later.
Lavelle stared hard at Ross.
“You want me to pitch to Phil Mickelson that he should be dance-dodging golf balls to Ghostland Observatory?” he asked.
Ross offered a deadpan response.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be great.”
Now Lavelle had to sell Mickelson on the idea. That meeting happened in June. Luckily, the company already had a history of asking athletes to go beyond their comfort zone.
“They showed some of the videos like they had done with Tim Tebow and J.J. Watt and they said, ‘We have this idea about dancing,’” Mickelson said Thursday after his first round at Firestone. “But then Amy said you should just tell them that you know how to do the worm. So after she said that, it was over. We were doing it.
“I don’t know, I think it’s fun to laugh at yourself and certainly that’s what I’m doing in this commercial because it was a lot of work just to get those moves out of me.”
Scott Rosner, Academic Director of the Sports Management Program at Columbia University, said the Mizzen+Main campaign, while lighthearted, is actually quite strategic, as well.
“Poking fun at yourself, especially if you’re a golfer, who tend to sometimes be a little stodgy, can be a pretty effective way to not only change your image but also move product,” Rosner said.
The video shoot took place June 27 and lasted less than 90 minutes. Ross’ wife Layne had choreographed the dance to show Mickelson what to do. He said there were 15-20 takes.
“Just a couple of the takes included the worm,” Lavelle said. “He kinda nailed it. … It’s actually an intimidating thing to do something like that on camera.”
Lavelle said Mickelson left the shoot still a bit unsure about how it would all play out. But that night, the company sent him a few video clips, which Mickelson showed to Amy and their children. It was at that point that Mickelson made peace with his performance that would soon go public.
“Once he showed it to them, well, they absolutely loved it,” Lavelle said. “They thought it was the greatest thing they had ever seen.”
It’s generated a similar reaction among his peers. Whether laughing with him or laughing at him, people generally finish the video with a smile (some, of course, just shake their heads).
“It’s funny—I love it,” said Zach Johnson. “It’s so bad it’s good. And I like the shirts. I’ve got a few of them.”
Tony Dovolani, a former dance pro on “Dancing With The Stars,” was a guest on the Sirius/XM PGA TOUR Radio show, Katrek & Maginnes On Tap. He gave Mickelson’s performance a “strong 7, maybe a weak 8.”
Explained Dovolani: “I can tell you this – athletically, it was pretty interesting. Up until he did the worm, I was like, OK, a little disappointing because I was expecting a lot more from him. But when he did the worm, I thought it was fantastic.
“He definitely has a lot of character, that’s for sure. … The other thing was his flexibility. Did you see how high he could kick his leg? I was impressed.”
Someone who was not impressed was Robert Garrigus, who not only is an avid watcher of "Dancing With The Stars" but also an avid dancer. He and his wife Ami often go dancing and would have entered some dance competitions were it not for Garrigus' heavy golf schedule.
Garrigus, competing at this week's Barracuda Championship, offered a sly smile as he called Mickelson's dancing "horrific."
"I can't believe they put it on air. You can quote that," Garrigus added. "He is not supposed to dance. He's a professional golfer, not a dancer. I would wipe the dance floor with him, for sure."
But what about the worm? Dovolani wondered if a body double actually performed that portion of the dance. Lavelle had fielded similar inquiries. Make no mistake – it was all Phil.
“We are definitely making sure to reiterate – that is Phil doing the worm,” Lavelle said. “It’s a thing of beauty.”
Meanwhile, Mickelson hinted that his dancing days may be far from over. There are outtakes, he said, and they might soon be coming to a screen near you.
“There were a few, there were a few that we cut out just for time,” Mickelson said. “Maybe we'll put them in outtakes because they're pretty good.
“I've kind of always laughed at myself, you know, since day one,” he added. “I've not ever taken myself too seriously, and this is kind of obvious with that because it's certainly outside my comfort zone. But I had a lot of fun doing it and it just really shows and demonstrates how comfortable and versatile the shirt really is.”