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Behind the Scenes with Phil Mickelson’s Caddie-for-a-Day: ASCO Member Dr. Thomas Buchholz

Jun 28, 2010

July 2010 Issue: ASCO member Thomas A. Buchholz, MD, FACR, is Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas.

One Sunday in April, however, Dr. Buchholz bore a title of a different sort—caddie for golf superstar Phil Mickelson. No, not at the Masters, where Mickelson took home his third green jacket, but at the Shell Houston Open.

Mickelson’s wife, Amy, and mother, Mary, are both being treated for breast cancer at nearby M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Mickelson took the opportunity to thank the oncology staff there by offering them tickets to the event. The real surprise came when Mickelson pulled Dr. Buchholz, one of Amy Mickelson’s doctors, out of the gallery for the singular honor as caddie.

AC: Did you have any idea what was in store for you and what were your thoughts as you took to the green?
Dr. Buchholz: The caddying opportunity came as a complete surprise. In my times with the Mickelsons at M. D. Anderson, I had let Phil know that I

had previous PGA caddying experience. That experience was limited to a four-day stretch at the 1984 Westchester Classic, when I carried the bag of Allen Miller. Despite the handicap of having me as a caddie, Allen was able to finish in the top 10 in that tournament.

Fast-forwarding to more than 25 years later, I told Phil that if he ever needed me, I’d be ready. Phil Mickelson has one of the most outstanding caddies in the history of golf, Jim “Bones” Mackay. They have been together for his entire professional career, and Bones has played an important role in Phil’s professional success. Therefore, I was very surprised when Phil invited me to carry his bag during the Shell Open, even more so in that it was during the last round of his Masters preparation.

AC: You ended up caddying for three holes. How did that unfold?
Dr. Buchholz: I think Phil’s original plan was for it to be one hole, but after “we” birdied the par three 14th hole, he asked if I was interested in going on to the par five 15th hole. That was a lot of fun because it let me see firsthand how far he can hit the ball. I also got to witness an incredible flop approach shot from a difficult lie that led to a second birdie. At that time, we both were concerned about putting our perfect record at risk by moving on to the difficult par three 16th hole, but by the time we came to the tee, Bones had already made his way to the green. Fortunately, Phil was able to get another birdie, so our perfect record remained intact.

AC: What’s your experience as a golfer, and do you still find time for it?
Dr. Buchholz: My golfing skills are limited, but I have always loved the game. I started taking lessons again after being inspired by the Mickelsons. However, finding the time to perfect this challenging game is very difficult at this point in my life. That’s OK, however. I’m more passionate about my calling as an oncologist, husband, and father, and the golf thing will have to develop slowly.

AC: What did this gesture on behalf of Phil Mickelson and his family mean to the oncology staff at M. D. Anderson?
Dr. Buchholz: Everyone at M. D. Anderson was touched by his generosity and the many kind words Phil had to say about our staff and institution. The Mickelsons are a remarkably thoughtful family.

AC: Were you surprised this story took off the way it did?
Dr. Buchholz: When Phil finished his Sunday round at the Shell Open, we were escorted to the press area where Dr. Kelly Hunt, a faculty colleague of mine who has also helped the Mickelsons, and I talked to the press. My daughter listened in on Phil’s interview with NBC, in which there were a lot of laughs about my caddying experience. He and I then had a very fun interview with the Golf Channel. The caddying episode was such a sincere and nice gesture on his part. It was clearly apparent from the response of the gallery, the press, and everyone who heard the initial story that it was going to generate a lot of interest. Of course, going on to win the Masters the next week and meeting his waiting family at the last hole was the icing on the cake.

AC: How excited were you that Phil Mickelson won the Masters?
Dr. Buchholz: It was very special. I was captivated by the unfolding drama as it developed and now feel peripherally linked to one of the best sports stories of our time. His play at the Masters was fantastic and exciting. However, seeing him hug his wife and be with his family on the 18th green was a truly remarkable and genuine moment. I am sure it was a touching moment for every cancer care provider and every family who has had to deal with cancer.

AC: Do you have any other hobbies or pastimes that help you balance your work as an oncologist?
Dr. Buchholz: My wife, Mara, and I have two great kids: Alex, 17, and Erin, 14. I have a very busy professional life so most of my time away from work centers on my family and the many friends we have in Houston. Finding balance, staying in shape, and being healthy are so important for our profession. I am thankful every day that I have such a great family to help make this happen.

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