By Mark Hyman
When Phil Mickelson swats his first tee shot at the Masters Tournament on Apr. 6, his caddie won't be much taller than a leprechaun. For the annual par-3 tourney, a prelim to the main event, Mickelson has lined up his five-year-old daughter, Amanda, a bouncy kindergartner who'll presumably be paid in Gummy Bears. "It should be cute. It's one of the things about the Masters we're really looking forward to this year," says Mickelson's wife, Amy.
It's fitting that Mickelson's quest for back-to-back Masters' titles begins with family. The lefty swinger is such a dedicated dad and dutiful husband that in 1999, with Amy nine months pregnant, he played the U.S. Open with a beeper in his golf bag. He promised to drop out -- though he came within a shot of winning -- if his wife went into labor. (Amanda was born a day after the tourney.)
Now that sources close to the Mickelson camp say he has sworn off sports betting -- the only glitch in his otherwise squeaky clean image -- his genuine devotion to his young family is helping establish him as a latter-day Ward Cleaver of golf. And Mickelson, 34, is proving that having a wholesome image can be highly lucrative.
This year, Mickelson's endorsement income will top $20 million, which some sports marketers say ranks him as the No. 2 among U.S. athletes in off-field earnings. Tiger Woods tops the leader board at about $80 million.
But in their hometown of San Diego, Phil and Amy are known not just for making big money but for lending their names to good works projects. They've been active in promoting Start Smart, a program that helped hundreds of children from underprivileged families pick up free backpacks and other school supplies at local stores. And together with ExxonMobil (XOM ), the Mickelsons are backing a new training center to hone the skills of elementary school science and math teachers. The Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy will hold its first sessions in July.
Mickelson is also in the third year of an endorsement deal with Ford (F ), which pays him a reported $5 million to $7 million annually. The cars in the Mickelson garage are Ford Expeditions, Phil says, because for transporting the young ones -- Amanda, Sophia, 3, and Evan, 2 -- "it's the safest vehicle out there." Even Mickelson's new memoir, One Magical Sunday, is a bouquet to his family. Warner Books nabbed the project for an advance of more than $500,000, according to publishing sources.
These deals would be out of bounds for rival marquee golfers Tiger Woods, who doesn't have children, or Vijay Singh, who keeps his private life strictly private. But they suit Mickelson, marketers say, because they reflect who he really is. When Mickelson heads for the course -- he played in 22 PGA Tour events last year -- strollers and car seats usually go with him.
"A lot of men want to be good at their jobs and great at being a parent. That's how Phil is viewed," says Jeffrey Chown, a managing director with Talent Link, a unit of Dallas-based Marketing Arm, which advises companies on endorsement deals with athletes.
Still, Mickelson can't completely shake questions of image and whether his is too upbeat and wholesome to be believed. He declines to be interviewed about past betting, which sources near him say ended two years. In the past, though, the golfer hasn't hid his passion for handicapping and, at times, wagering on sports events.
In 2001, ESPN posted Mickelson's weekly picks for National Football League games to its Web site, even listing a Phil "lock" of the week for one game that he recommended highly to gamblers. As recently as February, when Singh was asked on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel if he envied Mickelson's family-man image, he replied: "Yeah. But is that the true Phil?"
Mickelson has certainly had his Homer Simpson moments. In 2001, Mickelson was reprimanded by the Tour for what it termed a "technical violation" for betting another player on how a third player's shot would turn out. Mickelson's penchant for answering most questions directly also draws him into controversies, too. Two years ago he rankled Woods and Nike (NKE ), which supplies his golf equipment, by telling Golf magazine that "Tiger is the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he's stuck with."
The tempests haven't scared off sponsors. "Interesting people tend to get more exposure than not interesting people. Phil will always give you his opinion," explains Marty Collins, Ford's general marketing manager. Mickelson also performs like a champion dad, chauffeuring his little ones to karate lessons and hanging around with other parents during dance class when the clan is home. Once a week, says Amy, he carves an hour of time to be alone with each of his children.
Notes Phil: "I don't want to look back and wish I'd done this or that with my children. I want to help mold them into the people they become." By Mark Hyman
WON'T "THINK TWICE."
Mickelson takes the sniping at his wholesome image in stride, as do his corporate backers. "Some of it is professional jealousy," says Larry Dorman, Callaway Golf's (ELY ) senior vice-president for global public relations. "People who are relentlessly positive are always portrayed as being phonies or Pollyannas." And what's known about Mickelson's sports bets wouldn't trouble most sponsors, says Marc Ippolito, senior VP at Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, which helps companies in search of sports endorsers. "Sports bets are legal in Las Vegas. Nothing I have heard would make me think twice."
Mickelson, who played college golf at Arizona State University, was a star even before turning pro. He's the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event, a trick he turned in 1991 at age 20. He has tacked on 24 more wins since then, a record that would stand out more if it hadn't been compiled during the Age of Woods. Until his Masters win, Mickelson was known as the best active player never to have triumphed in one of golf's four major tourneys.
Woods still often prevails over Mickelson. In March, the duo locked up in a shootout at the Ford Championship in Miami, in which Woods rallied to eke out a single-shot victory. And his endorsement deals with Accenture (ACN ), American Express (AXP ), and Nike, among others, put him on a sponsorship planet of his own. Nike alone pays Woods $20 million a year.
But in luring sponsors, Mickelson is no slouch. Before the Masters triumph, deals with Ford, Rolex, and business consulting firm BearingPoint (BE ), among others, were earning him more off the course than on -- even though Mickelson took home $5.7 million last year from golfing, third on the PGA Tour money list.
His price, naturally, has shot up since the big victory. Mickelson inked a $10 million equipment deal with Callaway Golf, doubling his former deal with Titleist. (He picks up a $1 million bonus from Callaway if he repeats as Masters champ.) And his new deal with ExxonMobil could expand into a gusher of endorsements.
Mickelson sponsors rejoiced during last year's Masters. As part of his deals, he wears Ford's logo on his shirt and the BearingPoint logo on his visor. During the final round of the tournament, the year's highest-rated TV golf program, cameras showed Mickelson's Ford logo for more than nine minutes, roughly $2.9 million in free advertising, according to Joyce Julius, a research firm that tracks brand exposure.
The exposure was even more precious considering the tourney aired without TV commercials. "He has brought us media coverage and advertising time we never could have afforded," says Linda Rebrovick, BearingPoint's chief marketing officer.
As this year's Masters nears, Mickelson's sponsors are revving up. Ford is blitzing the airwaves with commercials for a contest to win a round of golf with Mickelson, National Football League quarterback Brett Favre, and country singer Toby Keith. A similar promotion last year registered 700,000 potential car buyers at Ford's Web site, a company official says.
Sales of Mickelson's 204-page autobiography also could catch fire. In it, Mickelson shares a shot-by-shot account of the nail-biting final round of last year's Masters. As usual, he doesn't slight his family, writing about his first meeting with Amy, a former Phoenix Suns cheerleader, and her life-threatening delivery of Evan in 2003. "If it had been up to Phil, he would have written a third of the book about each child," Amy jokes. "Obviously, that would have been boring to a lot of people."
Well, maybe not to the sponsors betting on Mr. Mickelson's Neighborhood.
Hyman is a BusinessWeek correspondent in Baltimore
Edited by Thane Peterson