Phil Mickelson still loves New York, and vice versa, if his first day of work at Bethpage Black this week was any indication.
It actually began on Monday with a Twitter post in which Mickelson inserted a red silhouette of his head where the heart usually goes in the familiar “I Love NY” logo.
He also wrote, “I’m excited to be back in NY for the @PGAChampionship. I love playing at Bethpage Black and looking forward to seeing some of the most passionate fans in the world this week!”
Mickelson, 48, finished second in both the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens at Bethpage, but the last time he visited Long Island for a major things went shockingly awry.
Eleven months ago at Shinnecock Hills, Mickelson made a 10 at the 13th hole on Saturday when he intentionally re-hit a ball in motion that was about to roll off the green and was penalized.
He finished the U.S. Open tied for 48th at 16 over par.
On Tuesday, Mickelson arrived at the driving range at about 2:30 p.m. and spent more than an hour hitting balls while fans looked on, with a short detour to work on pitching.
Several yelled, “We love you, Phil!” and got Mickelson’s familiar thumbs-up in return.
Someone asked him for his golf balls when he was done, and he said he needed them on the putting green. He spent another 15 minutes or so there before working his way through a line of autograph- and selfie-seekers.
Fans mostly yelled encouragement, mixed with random thoughts and questions.
One said, “You need bombs here!” Mickelson said, “No, I just have to keep them straight.”
Another asked him how much cash he had in his pocket. “Enough,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson is not among the stars scheduled for a pre-tournament news conference this week and did not seem inclined to stick around to chat after finishing his preparation.
He thanked a group of police officers working security this week and headed immediately to a courtesy car that took him into the late Long Island afternoon.