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Phil Mickelson will be a much better golf course designer than Tiger Woods

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Phil Mickelson's creativity and braininess will be an ally when he starts his next career as a golf course designer. Evidence can be found on a practice green in San Diego.

Phil Mickelson
What hurts Phil Mickelson in majors will help him in golf course design.
Phil MickelsonTiger Woods - PuttGrand del Mar - Practice RangeShawn Cox - Grand Del Mar's Director of Golf

SAN DIEGO - Phil Mickelson need not wallow in any private depression over his once supposed "rivalry" with Tiger Woods turning into a big cosmic joke. For Phil's time is coming. Not on the golf course. Heavens no. Mickelson doesn't even challenge in the big events anymore (one Top 15 in the last eight majors now).

Phil will have his day, though. When Tiger-Phil are fulltime into their second careers as golf course architects, when they actually become the new Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in business suits (or at least fancy golf polos), when there is a real boardroom rivalry, Mickelson finally gets to dominate.

Mickelson will kick Woods' butt as a course designer to nearly the same degree that Tiger has destroyed Phil on the golf course. And, if you haven't noticed, the only count that matters there stands 14-3 Tiger.

You can see Mickelson's edge on the practice range greens at the Grand Golf Club at the Grand Del Mar, a high-end course in the tony San Diego suburbs. That's right, the practice greens.

Phil Mickelson's name cannot be found anywhere on The Grand. This is a Tom Fazio design, and its marketed as such by the new, plush resort down the road.

Only Mickelson did have a hand in The Grand. The second-ranked golfer in the world designed the practice greens on the range, though his name's nowhere there, too. The iron statue of the golfer near the range's tee area is definitely not supposed to be Mickelson either. And not because "it's too skinny," as one smart aleck cracked. Rather, the child-height iron man is swinging right handed.

"Phil didn't want any credit," Grand Director of Golf Shawn Cox says. "We get some comments on the greens, though. They're more tilted than your usual practice greens - Phil wanted something where you could use some skill in landing different approaches, something with a little more challenge.

"He's really into the design of things; the little details interest him."

There you have Mickelson's edge. You may not realize it, but Mickelson is a nerd, a guy who fixates on angles and minutia that would bore others to tears. Even among PGA Tour players who obsess over their equipment as a matter of survival, Mickelson takes it to a whole other universe. Only Phil would decide to go with two drivers at August, with no drivers at Torrey Pines, to switch club manufacturers right before the Ryder Cup Matches.

And remember how Mickelson used to brag about correctly picking the long-shot Baltimore Ravens to win Super Bowl XXXV, how he'd eagerly analyze his sports bets in press conferences (back before more hardcore gambling rumors started dogging him)?

This is a guy who loves numbers, delights in using them to figure things out. Heck, what other pro athletes started a foundation to increase math and science awareness in the U.S.? It doesn't exactly fit into the usual tricked-out Escalade/party-in-the-Hollywood-hills/chill-on-the-hunking-yacht circuit.

It's the stuff of a great golf course designer, though. Mickelson's going to produce interesting, original golf courses, because he's truly interested in the mundane details that the top golf course architects are. What often cripples Mickelson on the golf course - overthinking everything - will turn into a great ally in his second career.

"I like to see how things work," Mickelson says. "I spend a lot of time coming up with gameplans."

Why do you think Phil Mickelson designed the practice greens at a San Diego course for free, without even seeking any recognition for it?

Because he's already a design nerd. Because he wants the practice. Because he yearns to get better with the blueprints. Because it fits his grand plan.

More matters to Mickelson than majors

Mickelson is friends enough with Cox that they and their families once went on a ski vacation together years ago, but they're not best buds by any means. He didn't have to design Cox's practice greens. He sure didn't have to remember it so enthusiastically.

For there was Mickelson at the U.S. Open - his dream Open in San Diego - noticing Cox and shouting out, "Hey, how are my greens?"

"First thing he said," Cox says, obviously both pleased and surprised by the exchange.

Think Tiger Woods is seeking out head pros near where he grew up and asking about that gratis green job before majors? Check that. Do you think that Tiger would ever even design a doorknob for free?

Look at where Woods' first major design is going to be - the mad money land of Dubai - and you cannot help but assume that golf course design is just another means for the world's greatest golfer to steam right past billionaire status. Mickelson is not designing golf courses in Watts either, but there's no question he's into the nuts and bolts of the process.

Sure, Mickelson sometimes comes off as a YouTube-age Eddie Haskell. Especially when he appears in Washington, D.C., with his hair slicked back and his wife Amy at his side, trying to channel Jacqueline Onassis in all white. Phil often makes it exceedingly easy to make fun of him.

Just look at the reaction to the Mickelsons testifying before Congress last week on the need for finding more creative ways to teach math and science. Based on some of the mocking, you'd think that Mickelson had shown up and gone Mark "I'm not here to talk about the past" McGwire rather than earnestly advocating for education.

It's hard to argue that Mickelson does not care, though. If anything, he's always cared too much - about winning majors to the point where it paralyzes him and about being good at a number of things besides golf.

"Mickelson's a pretty good skier. I don't think most people realize how good of an athlete he is," says Cox, who played on the University of Washington's 1992 National Championship football team himself. "He doesn't fool around. He likes to go fast."

Mickelson's charging fast into course design now, obsessing and thrilling in the details. Tiger Woods is going to have a hard time keeping up with that.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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