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An Unlikely Old Soul, Mickelson Teaches Us About Life

With a reshaped body and recalibrated mind, he became the oldest player to win a major while raising renewed hopes of a career Grand Slam — but not before surviving a scary, superspreading mob scene.

Jay Mariotti

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David J. Phillips/AP

What, no vertical leap? Couldn’t he have launched his famed spread-eagle jump, arms raised and mouth agape, and shouted to the golfing gods again? Now that he has blubber-blasted his Everyman core, stopped eating as much, developed beach biceps and escaped the mental cages of human aging, Phil Mickelson surely would have soared higher Sunday at 50 years, 11 months and seven days than he did 17 years earlier at Augusta National.

We’ll have to settle for how he survived thousands of superspreading loons on the 18th fairway at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, somehow emerging from the converging chaos with a thumbs-up signal that defines his newfound inner peace. If the security-challenged mob scene didn’t rattle him, maybe we all should be adopting his wellness plan.

2021 PGA: Just when it's least expected, Phil Mickelson gives them what  they want | Golf Channel

“Slightly unnerving, but exceptionally awesome,” said Mickelson, now best known as the oldest player to win a major championship.

Improbable as it seems, he is the new-age guru of sports, one-upping even Tom Brady in the mastery of body and mind. All we can ask, as we absorb the magnitude of his PGA Championship triumph, is how many more majors he might have won if he’d taken such good care of himself. “I don’t want to get all spiritual,” said Mickelson … yet spiritual is the operative word here. I was at the Masters when Jack Nicklaus won a green jacket at 46. This was even more impressive, more inspirational, more telling about the power of purpose and self-discipline, even on the back nine of life.

“You know, something sort of strikes me: Fifty years old is older than 46,” Nicklaus said in a congratulatory video. “Well done, my friend.”

The transformation is astonishing, right down to the bad-ass sunglasses, the tanned visage, the coffee blend that he brews, the diets that led to his dramatic weight loss and the “Phireside With Phil” chats on social media with celebrities and fellow players. This is not the Phil Mickelson we watched for decades, winning assorted majors with his massive talent but always in the shadow of Tiger Woods and known as much for his second-place finishes and epic implosions than his glories. He told his wife, Amy, that he wanted more from the game at an age when other greats look to the seniors tour or the broadcast booth.

In a monumental moment for golf, sport and life itself, he forged a historic breakthrough that no one else saw coming. After securing his two-stroke win over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen, he simply lifted both arms and saluted the fans who could have suffocated him. Koepka blasted the lack of security and suggested a fan or two tried to intentionally injured his surgically repaired knee, with CBS’ Jim Nantz having to interrupt his fairy-tale call by saying, “They’ve lost control of the scene.” Fortunately, the idiots didn’t mar an all-time memory. Mickelson’s victory reaction was age-appropriate, but it didn’t lessen the rush that fell over his body.

“This is just an incredible feeling because I believed it was possible, but everything was saying it wasn’t,” he said, standing beside the Wanamaker Trophy. “I don’t know to describe my feelings of excitement and fulfillment. I hope others find that inspiration. There’s no reason you can’t accomplish goals at an older age. It just takes more work.”

That is especially true on a golf course, which doesn’t involve contact that Brady must avoid on a football field and LeBron James couldn’t avoid Sunday in a playoff game, tumbling over close friend Chris Paul in what Lakers coach Frank Vogel described as “dangerous” and “a dirty play.” As Woods, watching from his Florida home down the Atlantic coast, hopes just to walk again as he recovers from devastating leg injuries in a horrific SUV accident, Mickelson now looks to swell his legacy. Imagine if he returns next month to the course of his youth, Torrey Pines near San Diego, and wins the U.S. Open — the one major that has eluded him.

Imagine a sixth major title at 50, a career Grand Slam at 51.

Phil Mickelson, at 50, Wins P.G.A. Championship - The New York Times

“It’s very possible this is the last tournament I ever win, but it’s also very possible I’ve had a breakthrough in some of my focus,” he said, embracing the dream. “Maybe I go on a little bit of a run. There’s no reason why I or anyone else can’t do it at a later age. There’s no reason the game of golf can’t be a game for a lifetime. If you take care of your body with all the physiology that’s out there, you can get your body to function right and play for a lifetime.”

Is it me, or is this a self-help book tour waiting for an itinerary? “Working harder is the deal,” he said. “I’ve had to work harder physically to be able to practice as long as I’ve wanted, and I’ve had to work a lot harder to maintain mental focus. My desire to play is the same as always. I’ve never been driven by an exterior thing, but I have been intrinsically driven by the competition and my love of the game. The belief I still could do it inspired me to work harder. I just didn’t see why it couldn’t be done.”

If he remains a dozen shy of Nicklaus’ majors total and can’t counter the reality that Woods produced the greatest golf ever played, Mickelson can say this: No one has extended his triumphant prime for a longer period. He did so despite slipping to No. 115 in the world rankings, coming into the week as a 200-1 longshot and having no major victory since 2013 or top-10 major finish since 2016. Two weeks ago, he opened the Wells Fargo Championship with a 64, then shot 75, 76 and 76. Phil was Phading. More Phireside chats awaited.

He told himself to focus. It might have sounded trite and Anthony Robbins-like, but now that his body is fit — do we dare say chiseled? — Mickelson turned to meditation and breathing. Before shots all weekend, you saw him closing his eyes, visualizing and focusing, all but dropping a yoga mat into the tee box. The wind conditions were diabolical, yet while younger stars fell off the leaderboard as usual, the old man kept hitting fairways and greens and not sabotaging himself as we’ve seen in big moments. “There were no foul balls,” Jason Day said. “Usually with Phil, you can get some pretty wild ones, but he kept it straight out in front of him.”

Even when distracted by technology, Mickelson remained composed. When a drone disrupted him Saturday in a back bunker, he calmly told a CBS worker, “Can you radio to the TV guys to get the drone out of the flight of my shot?” Of course, he saved par.

By late Sunday, it was obvious Koepka’s missing putter would prevent him from a challenge. Mickelson was sending a chilling message to golf’s young bucks, just as Woods did when he returned from the dregs to win the Masters two years ago. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are under 30. Rory McIlroy is 32. Dustin Johnson is 36. Why did they let the old man beat them and make a bigger headline than they’ve ever made? Bryson DeChambeau was supposed to revolutionize golf with carb-bloating and weight gain, but Mickelson is smarter about what to put in his body — and ripped the week’s longest drive when he needed it most, 366 yards on the par-5 16th.

“I believed for a long time I could play at this level,” Mickelson said. “I just wasn’t executing the way I could. I’ve been able to stay more in the present and more focused. Physically, I’ve been striking it as well as ever, but I haven’t been able to see that clear picture. It’s just the ability to quiet my mind and get rid of the exterior noise.”

And what does the New Phil miss most about the Old Phil?

“Food,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got to eat a lot less and got to eat better. I’ve got to let my body recover. It’s been a blessing. I feel much better, don’t have inflammation and wake up feeling good. It’s been a sacrifice worth making.”

He couldn’t stop praising his brother, Tim, the caddy who told him at No. 7, “If you’re going to win this thing, you’ve got to make committed golf swings.” He couldn’t stop praising his coach, Andrew Getson, who fixed his swing over time. But this mostly was a victory for his wife, Amy. He was her rock when she had breast cancer, winning the 2010 Masters in her honor. When he hit his mid-life crisis, she has been his rock.

On the phone with her minutes after his grandest moment, he said, “I miss you. I love you very much. I’ll see you tonight.”

50-Year Old Phil Mickelson Makes History, Wins PGA Championship - Pro Golf  Weekly

If this was the famous final scene of Phil Mickelson, it was, to quote him, exceptionally awesome. I suspect the curtain hasn’t fallen yet in the theatre. He has more drama in store, maybe a vertical leap, as he heads to the gym and the salad line.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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