Does Phil Mickelson, course designer, forecast Lefty's end as a top golfer?
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, Calif. - Phil Mickelson wants to make it clear that he's not thinking of retiring from the PGA Tour, that it hasn't even crossed his mind. But it sure seems like Lefty's set up an exit plan.
Mickelson is undertaking his most ambitious golf course design project to date, a resort complex on 1,800 acres in the Palm Springs valley. If the project (regulation 27-hole course, 18-hole par 3, huge practice facility) comes off - it still needs approval from a Riverside County commission before construction begins - Mickelson could be taking the first big step to a Jack Nicklaus- and Arnold Palmer-style second career.
Not that he's willing to admit even mulling it over.
"Fortunately, golf is one of those sports that you can play well into your 40s and 50s and beyond if you wish," Mickelson said. "It's not something I have to think about."
Still, even in his golf prime the 35-year-old Mickelson has not shown a great love for the PGA Tour's long schedule. It's hard to imagine him willingly spending large amounts of time away from his kids when they are teenagers and he's in his 40s.
A 50-something Lefty glad-handing the fans while the rest of the seniors on the Champions Tour grumble? Sure, it's possible. Perhaps even likely. But not as an almost-every-week thing.
"It's going to be interesting to see how Phil and Tiger [Woods] and the rest of today's top players approach the Champions Tour when they get up there," Mike Weir said. "Is it going to be something they want to do with all the money they will have made?"
This is where Mickelson's Desert Hot Springs project, Palmwood Golf Club, could come into play. Mickelson has been involved in the design of one other course - the Lower Course at Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, an exclusive private club where more than 20 PGA Tour players are members and the average handicap is an 8. Palmwood figures to be a much more high-profile venture, with a high-end resort and a Dave Pelz Academy on site.
This course will go a long way towards determining how seriously Mickelson is taken as a celebrity golf architect. Of course, Mickelson will tell you he's just sticking one tentative spike into the world of course design.
"A very little more," Mickelson said when asked if he could see himself doing more courses. "Course design is very time-consuming and I just don't have that kind of time with my playing schedule and corporate obligations."
Mickelson envisions Palmwood as the kind of place where he'd be comfortable hanging out. At the project's introductory press conference he talked of putting in a basketball court, bowling alleys and plenty of big-screen TVs around the large clubhouse.
"I don't drink or smoke, but maybe we'll have a wine and cigar bar where the members can come out and hang," he said.
The site itself is a large section of vacant land flanked by the San Bernardino Mountains. A long stretch of dark, rocky road takes you there. There are no houses in sight and few signs that you're anywhere close to Palm Springs' downtown restaurant row and La Quinta's collection of famous courses. This is true desert.
Mickelson talks about the place as a spot where he can come to work on his game for a few days (Pelz is his coach), noting it's only a two-hour drive from his north San Diego home. "I can get home by the time the kids get out of school," he said.
Lefty wants everyone to know that he's sure he has a long run of top golf ahead of him. After a 2005 season in which he dominated early, was mostly unheard from in the first three majors and then pulled out a five-day PGA Championship win for major No. 2, he's at the point where he's just "mostly refining things" with his swing. He talks about having found a comfort and confidence level in the fitness program personal trainer Sean Cochran set up for him.
"We've found some things that work and are sticking with them," Mickelson said. "I think it will help keep me playing for a long time."
Tiger Woods' sometimes foil even brought up Jack Nicklaus' 1986 Masters win at age 46.
"I was 15 and I was watching it," Mickelson said. "I actually videoed that tournament and would watch it over and over and over. I think we all remember watching it. It was just a really neat tournament, one of the best the game's ever seen. And I look back on it and enjoy when it's on TV.
"I can't turn it off."
That doesn't sound like someone planning to fade from center stage anytime soon. Still, the first ripcord of Phil Mickelson's golden parachute can be seen out in the Palm Springs desert. Construction could start as early as April.
March 13, 2006