Today, June 16, is Phil Mickelson's 44th birthday.
For over two decades now, the five-time major champion has been a fan favorite -- just as much for his on-course play, as the father and family man he is off it (last year, he left during practice rounds at the U.S. Open in Philadelphia to fly home to California to be at his daughter's eighth-grade graduation, returning to Merion just before his first-round tee time).
Mickelson is one of those rare stars in sport who embraces all that comes with his stardom. He's been known to spend an hour or more after rounds -- good and bad -- signing autographs for fans. Sure, many players sign, but after a bad day it would be easy to give them a pass if they wanted to get out of there. That's not Mickelson though.
And, if you wanted to get an idea of just how good Mickelson can be to his fans, then you must check out this Yahoo! story by Jay Busbee from over the weekend about what Mickelson did for a father and wheelchair-bound son at Pinehurst No. 2.
Over all 18 of Pinehurst's sand-strewn, wire-and-scrub-grass-laden holes, John Finn pushed his son David. They accompanied Mickelson inside the ropes as guests of Phil himself. It was the kind of constant, personal connection between athlete and fan that's not possible in any other sport, and neither John nor David could stop grinning.
"This has just been amazing," John said, cooling down in the shade next to Pinehurst's famed Payne Stewart statue. "We've met Phil before, but this is the first time we've walked all 18 with him."
"David, he's a great kid," Mickelson said after Sunday's round. "He's been with us for a long time. He's been out at a number of tournaments for almost a decade now. His dad, John, is a great man."
"Great" isn't a label John would apply to himself. The high school teacher from Ramsey, N.J. just loves his son enough to take him to three to four golf tournaments a year in a wheelchair with "David Finn, The Golf Fanatic" inscribed on the back.
David, age 21, has a form of muscular dystrophy that virtually immobilizes him in his wheelchair. His body lies twisted in painfully unnatural ways, and one of the tragedies of his condition is that his mind is as sharp as anyone's at Pinehurst. What brings him great joy, though, is watching golf, both live and on television.
Happy birthday, Phil.