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I went to a golf tournament and fight talk broke out

By Tom Sorensen
tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

Phil Mickelson drives the ball 285 yards down the right side of the fairway and the ball lands in a clump of pine straw behind a tree.

From there Mickelson punches the ball – one of the many terms golf shares with boxing – 40 yards into the rough off the left side of the fairway.

Fans groan, but these shots are one reason fans embrace Mickelson. Most of the spectators who follow him in the first round of the Wells Fargo Classic Thursday can hit a ball behind a tree and into a rough.

Then Mickelson becomes Mickelson and, if his putt doesn’t lip out, he saves par. He finishes with a bogey on No. 8, the next to last hole for him and his only bogey of the round.

At 68, he’s one stroke out of the lead.

After the round, Mickelson does three series of interviews outside the clubhouse at Quail Hollow. Every question he’s asked is about golf, which makes sense if you think about it.

I hear a rumor about Mickelson I find interesting, however, a rumor that has nothing to do with golf. So I cut a deal. At the conclusion of the three rounds of interviews I get a minute with him.

Mickelson walks up 11 steps and stands outside the Gentlemen’s Locker Room, and I meet him there.

Pretend it’s you, the reader, with one of the best known and best liked golfers in the world. You get 60 seconds. To try for more is to dishonor your agreement.

What do you ask?

Ha. Small minds think alike. I ask the same question you would.

“Are you going to watch the Mayweather-Guerrero fight?”

“Yes,” Mickelson says before I finish the question.

The Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero fight, which is in Las Vegas, will be televised Saturday night on pay-per-view.

I had heard Mickelson was a boxing fan. I had hoped. There aren’t many of us left.

But Mickelson wears white pants and a pastel sea foam green shirt. This is attire you are more likely to see at the yacht club than ringside.

Mickelson’s shoes, however, are white alligator(ish). You can find 100 pair at any fight in Atlantic City, N.J., or Las Vegas. So he has street credibility.

How’d you become a boxing fan?

Mickelson turned professional in golf in 1992 and about that time he became friends with Bob Halloran. Halloran is a well-known Las Vegas boxing matchmaker and promoter.

Halloran, vice president of Sports and Entertainment Events at Caesar’s World, moved from Caesar’s Palace to The Mirage and The Mirage to MGM Grand.

The early ’90s were a time of big men, and Mickelson talks enthusiastically about Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and the all but forgotten Riddick Bowe.

It’s an odd and incongruous conversation to have outside the Gentlemen’s Locker room. Quail Hollow is ringed by houses spectacular and grand. Boxing arenas are ringed by 30-year-old cigar smoke.

But Mickelson did punch the ball from behind the tree on No. 8.

And golf, like boxing, has hooks, cuts and drops.

Golf, however, has shanks. Boxing does not allow them.

Golf has a gimme, a putt so easy a golfer doesn’t even have to take it.

Boxing has a gimme. Many of Mayweather’s opponents have been.

Golf has chip shots. Boxing has cheap shots.

In golf, bite means that a ball stops suddenly because of the backspin with which it is hit. In boxing, bite is what Mike Tyson does to the earof Evander Holyfield.

Golf has a turkey, which is three consecutive birdies. Mayweather, who repeatedly ducked Manny Pacquiao before Pacquiao wore out, has fought lots of turkeys.

“It’s an interesting environment,” Mickelson says.

I don’t know if he’s talking about golf or boxing. He’s correct either way.

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