Is Chip Kelly the Phil Mickelson of College Football?

Yes, this is a golf blog, but golf gives me the perfect metaphor to describe Chip Kelly, the highly successful, but maddening, coach of the Oregon Ducks football team. (Overseas readers, you might not be able follow the particulars, but you’ll do all right with the general principle.)

Kelly has taken Oregon to four straight B.C.S. bowl games, the National Title game once, and how can you get more successful than that? By not being the Phil Mickelson of college football, that’s how.

2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Phil, who hasn’t hit a fairway all day with his driver, has a one-shot lead on the final tee. Out comes the driver instead of the fairway wood and tragedy of errors, beginning with a tee shot deep into the trees, causes him to lose the tournament by one stroke.

2012 Masters. Third hole, final round. Phil hits his approach in to ugly stuff left of the green. Instead of taking an unplayable lie and trying for maybe a five and a certain six, he plays it as it lies and ends up with a seven, losing the tournament by two shots.

Over to Chip Kelly.

2010 National Title game. Oregon’s offense has been pretty well contained by Auburn’s defensive line, but the Ducks complete a long pass in the third quarter and have a first and goal inside the five. In three plays, they get down to the one yard-line. Instead of going for the field goal, Kelly tries to do what hasn’t worked three times already. It doesn’t work the fourth time. Oregon comes away with no points, and loses by three.

2012 at home against Stanford, the only team realistically standing between Oregon and another trip to the NTG. QB Marcus Mariota breaks off a long run to the Stanford 15 in the first quarter. Three plays later it’s fourth and two. Just like Phil, Kelly pulls out the driver, instead of going for a certain three points. Once again, the Ducks are stopped and Stanford takes over. The game ends in a tie and the Ducks lose in overtime. ‘Bye, ‘bye, NTG.

Both Mickelson and Kelly are gamblers, and they have the talent/team to make it pay off enough to warrant the attempt. But there are times when you just have to take what you’ve earned and say, “That’s good enough.” Fourth and short inside the 10 seems to be Kelly’s idea of hitting into a sucker pin. Sometimes it works, and when it does it’s what gets you knocking on the door of winning it all, but what’s the saying? Discretion is the better part of valor? A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? It’s one thing to be brave, but another to be foolish.

Will Kelly ever learn? I doubt it. But oh, well, we’re having a fun ride, and we’ll enjoy it wherever he takes us for as long as it lasts.

I watched Monday night’s Alabama-Notre Dame game, every play, even to the very end. There’s no more college football for another 235 days. It’s a good thing I have golf to keep my mind occupied in the meantime.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.