Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Phil Mickelson hit some dazzling golf shots, as he often does. But his booming drives and enchanted short game weren’t what stole the show at Capital One’s “The Match: Champions for Change”—Mickelson’s third appearance.
It was everything in between. The guidance provided to his partner, Charles Barkley, before every shot. The detailed course intel. The natural, unrelenting motivation. The one-liners.
Over the course of a few hours, the accomplished golf pro with five majors and 44 PGA Tour victories did something no one has been able to do to date.
He fixed Barkley’s golf swing.
Although their team was the underdog heading into the event, Mickelson and Barkley bested Stephen Curry and Peyton Manning at The Stone Canyon Club in Oro Valley, Arizona.
The two closed it out on hole 15 when Mickelson’s birdie putt found the cup on the par-five. After a shaky start, Mickelson and Barkley won the alternating shot format 4-and-3.
“Two people thought this was going to happen,” Mickelson told Barkley on the TNT broadcast after he sank the putt. “You and me. That’s it.”
The views were stunning. The tee boxes and course layout looked like they were straight out of Golden Tee. The outcome, when it was said and done, was not what most were anticipating.
And most of all, it all benefited an incredible cause. At its core, this is what the day was about.
As part of Capital One’s The Match, $5,455,000 million was raised for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), in addition to millions of meals being donated to Feeding America.
The day did not begin with a birdie for Mickelson and Barkley. They fell behind after the first hole in part because Mickelson purposely gave Barkley the wrong yardage on his approach in an effort to promote aggressiveness.
From there, however, things took a turn. And the chemistry between Mickelson and Barkley took over. They were at the turn and never looked back.
“Calm your mind,” was a phrase Mickelson routinely uttered to Barkley, who was his “partner” throughout the day before he took a shot. The two had natural rapport, as if they had been playing together regularly for the last few decades.
While many were anxiously waiting to see if Barkley would showcase his infamous hitch at some point during the round—a movement that has made Barkley’s golfing famous—it never surfaced.
Barkley hit the first two fairways, easing into the day. Sure, he offered up a couple of crooked tee shots into the desert with colorful commentary along the way, but his game held together much better than most anticipated.
Through each swing, there was Mickelson. Guzzling coffee and providing tips and emotional support. Even when The Match was all but decided, Mickelson didn’t slow down.
He diligently read greens before Barkley putted. He offered club-selection strategy off the tee, which Barkley happily abided by. He provided a never-ending stream of motivation—the kind of support one would love to have on the golf course.
When the Inside the NBA team, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal, joined the broadcast to playfully heckle Barkley as he played, Mickelson came to his teammate’s defense and made sure he wasn’t completely thrown by the hilarious cameos.
And along the way, Mickelson oozed confidence. This isn’t new. This is who he has been, regardless of the stakes attached.
On the front nine, with Curry and Manning struggling mightily, Mickelson had them pick up so he and Barkley would have to two-putt to win. After Barkley’s lag left Mickelson with a longer putt than he was likely expecting, he calmly drained the putt with a smile to go up another hole.
This was a masterclass in golf showmanship. Mickelson, who has competed in Capital One’s The Match all three times, is a natural when it comes to blending competition with lighthearted fun.
With Barkley, he found his ultimate comfort zone and his perfect playing partner. And while the two have contrasting personalities and wildly different golf swings, the harmony throughout was delightful.
Although the competition wasn’t particularly close, it never felt that way. No matter the situation, there was Mickelson. While Barkley had a line for everything, as he often does, Mickelson’s voice perfectly narrated the afternoon.
Whatever the next version of Capital One’s The Match looks like—whoever is next to share the spotlight for a great cause—here’s hoping one thing doesn’t change.
Give Lefty a microphone, a golf cart and a set of clubs, and watch and listen to him go to work.