Phil Mickelson – A Risk-Taker Who Inspires!

As you may know, this past Sunday, July 21st, Phil Mickelson became this year’s “Champion Golfer” by winning the 2013 Open Championship in Scotland.  He was the only golfer who finished the tournament with a sub-par total on the Muirfield course, and Mickelson’s final-round score of 66 tied the lowest score in the tournament.  Upon consideration, his will be viewed by golf historians as one of the greatest closing rounds ever played in a major golf championship.


Jason Gay writes perceptively in The Wall Street Journal on what we can take from Phil’s performance.  Mickelson, regarded as one of the most aggressive players in the game, “did not become famous for being careful.  He’s famous for running after risk. . . . [T]he precarious, why-the-hell-notness of the Mickelson game [demonstrates his] audacity of playing dangerously in a sport that often rewards restraint.”

Defining Mickelson as a risk-taker is not a something new; he has played that way for his entire 20 plus-year career.  And there can be no question that his playing style has, on more than one occasion, cost him dearly.  Phil has finished second in the U.S. Open a record six times, though some of those losses can be attributed to heroic deeds by a competitor–like the 15-foot putt that Payne Steward sank on the last hole of the 1999 Open. But Phil’s other near-misses might have been avoided by more conservative play.  However, as in deconstructing the stages and phases, causes and effects of any other human event, we’ll probably never know.

Like Jason Gay, I prefer instead to celebrate his risk-taking, agreeing that what Phil has taught us is that we cannot “wait for good things to wander into the kitchen through the cat door.”  History is replete with similar teachings. Surely Abraham Lincoln–possibly the most remarkable individual born within the bounds of our nation, was indeed a risk-taker.  He spent the Civil War years steadfastly holding to the goal of preserving the Union—against myriad wrenching challenges to it.


Lesser individuals, you know the type–the Chicken-Littles whose entrenched risk aversion fuels a psyche perpetually in a state of intellectual and emotional morbidity–never rise to great moments.  Rather than accepting the risks and hardships, the near-countless losses, month upon month, of many mothers’ sons on both sides that forged Lincoln’s high-stakes, steadfast aggression, the average leader would have capitulated, settling the matter in a way that would possibly have fractured the country, leaving the U.S. vulnerable once more to re-colonization by European powers.  Preserving the Union was key to building the future that is our present today—and tomorrow.

When the opportunity arises to make a fraught but transformational decision, be it in our lives or in the life of an organization or a nation–a decision that hinges upon moments when all can be won or lost, we should hope the decision lies with a risk-taker. Not someone who leans towards recklessness, but someone who can steadfastly bear the scars that sometimes befall courageous leaders taking courageous action.  The kinds of scars that paradoxically motivate him or her to try again to win.


Smaller minds, those pathologically averse to risk, when faced with a decision great in consequence, generally take one of two roads:  they practice nonfeasance–pretending to decide on a way forward which, when examined by inquiring minds, is revealed to be nothing more than a reinforcement of the status quo; or they are guilty of malfeasance, addressing the problem through peripheral, small-scope decisions that they know do not address the heart of the problem. Their decisions are merely a window dressing styled smartly by a good PR department that touts them to the media.  And thus the old, dented tin can gets one more half-hearted kick down the road—that being perhaps the greatest, most dangerous risk-taking of all.

You need look no farther than the state of politics in this country to see the inability of elected officials to address the deep, dry-rot issues of our day and our children’s.

thomas_sowellThis illusory form of governance is what may have prompted Thomas Sowell, to observe that, “[M]uch of the social history of the western world over the past three decades has been a history of replacing what has worked with what has sounded good.”


So when you are next faced with an important decision, remember that an action calculated to leave the problem in a state of repose is never the correct action.  Have the courage to be a steadfast risk taker; right or wrong, risk-taking of just the right degree, not too much and not too little, shows a person bent on greatness. That ability and cast of mind and heart are what have made Phil Mickelson one of the greatest golfers ever!

About Santo Costa

Sandy Costa is an internationally respected speaker and business leader. Check out Sandy’s website at
This entry was posted in Humanity at Work and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Phil Mickelson – A Risk-Taker Who Inspires!

  1. Sharon Haselden says:

    I love Phil!!! So happy he won.

  2. Mark Faust says:

    Apropos to risk taking and heroes like Phil what do you think about this concept:

    Innovation, Entrepreneurship & the Monarchies that Support Them

    I have the thought that mayhap PETER drucker and I have been wrong when we emphasize how innovation is always a repeatable science and that its not about gifted people. So often it really is an entrepreneur who if they don’t own at least have a heightened sense of ownership in the venture that is so innovative. You were like that I guess and obviously Steve jobs was but the more I think about the innovators and most innovative companies I’ve known the more I see them as led by owners.

    -Mark Faust 513.621.8000 x1

  3. Bob Reuss says:

    I really like this one Sandy!


  4. Michelle says:

    Sandy, thank you. I agree. My greatest successes has been a result of me not being afraid to assume risk.

  5. Jim Blount says:

    Sandy: This is an excellent article and a great observation re risk taking. I am also a Phil Mickelson fan, and am already hoping he gets his lifetime grand slam at the U.S, Open in Pinehurst next year. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Jim

  6. Doug Hodges says:

    Mr. Costa,

    Thanks so much for writing this piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it, not just from the golf perspective, but also the inspirational life lesson that you share. Hopefully it will motivate others to step outside their comfort zones and to do what is right when it is called for.

    Your reference to Lincoln and his strength as a leader also reminds me of a quote I recently read from Theodore Roosevelt speech which he delivered in 1910 in Paris at the Sorbourne:

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    Mr. Costa, I strive each day to step up to the plate, your blog inspires me to continue this work. Thank you.

    As an aside, I would like to invite you to meet with me sometime to discuss SwingPals, I know that you would be a valuable resource in this effort.

    My personal mission is to help as many children as I can to step into this space about which you write. Many of the kids in Durham served by SwingPals face significant adversity. Adversity which they neither brought upon themselves or deserve. I hope that by experiencing SwingPals these children will be able to develop the self-confidence and self-esteem that is critical in-order for them to have the strength to challenge their insecurities. By doing so, my steadfast belief is that they will be better able to lead healthy and enriched lives; lives that will allow them be great leaders. Leaders like Lincoln and Roosevelt were.

    I hope to have the pleasure to meet you soon.

    My very best wishes to you and thank you again for everything you are doing to impact our community.

    Doug Hodges, PGA


    Phone: (919)623-2258

    TWP Differently – no border

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s