Great Athletes Are So Different From the Rest of Us, Chapter 1,785,982Phil Mickelson was about five minutes past signing his scorecard for the final round of the 2016 Open championship. That document showed that Mickelson had shot a six-under 65 at Royal Troon and didn't make a single bogey in the process.
The giant yellow scoreboard by the 18th green showed that this was not good enough. Mickelson's playing partner Henrik Stenson had shot a ridiculously superb 63 to finish at 20-under par, a total that shattered numerous major tournament records and incidentally beat Phil by three strokes.
Nobody focuses on the bright side so much as those announcers who interview pro golfers on tournament broadcasts. The chap handling that chore for NBC asked Mickelson if he took solace in the fact he had played his best in one of the greatest final rounds in golf history (Mickelson's score for the tournament would have won or forced a playoff in 141 of the previous 144 Opens).
Mickelson's stare of blank astonishment indicated the chap with the blazer was actually a seven-eyed create from Planet Qoxxo. There was a second of silence that seemed much longer, then Lefty turned in a championship display of repressed emotion.
"No," Mickelson said. "No, you inhuman monster, I just played one of my great rounds and STILL lost the Open. How can you imagine I feel any way but bad" was what Mickelson obviously meant.
All golfers from 25 handicappers to Jack Nicklaus remember everything they ever did on a golf course. Some part of Mickelson's brain was doubtless chewing on the fact that was his 11th second-place finish in a major, and that's he even runner-up in that awful statistic, behind Nicklaus's 14 second places.
Roughly two questions later, Mickelson went on a relatively long spiel about how in fact he was happy with his game and had all sorts of good feelings about tournaments to come. It wasn't canned blah, his emotions were too raw and close to the surface for that. What might have appeared as signs of a split personality was merely the top athlete's coping mechanism in action. To survive the trauma of Troon, Mickelson's mind was jumping ahead to Baltusrol, site of the PGA Championship in 10 days time.
The second most important element of the magnificent blessing and horrendous curse of the competitive zeal at the heart of every great one in every sport is that losing hurts them so much more than it does for anyone else. Fans who think their home team's losses blight their lives are only playing at the pain which most pros live with on a near daily basis. When said top athlete is measuring himself in performances which come only four times a year, as Mickelson is the pain is more exquisite still, but for all of those wealthy famous men and women, losing is a burden so heavy it would drive them mad with frustration -- except for one compensation within their souls.
The most important element of that competitive zeal is the part, the larger part, that says after each defeat "that won't happen next time. I won't let it."