One time David lost and Phil said to him ‘Don’t worry you can pay me when you turn pro.’ One Friday at the Farmers Insurance Open the weather was just horrible. Cold blowy sideways rain. Phil made a mess of his last hole on Friday and missed the cut. Saturday’s weather was no better.
Thompson took over conversation. I just nodded and kept up. He talked about how much the rough had changed at Carnoustie. “The second shots are pretty easy around here” he said. “It’s about where you’re playing from.” Francesco Molinari might agree. All of this information came mostly unprompted within the first 10 minutes of meeting him.
When I spotted a caddie on Carnoustie’s 4th tee box all alone Tuesday evening I was reminded of that again. There was Martyn Thompson charting the course for Rhys Enoch the (now) 412th-ranked player in the world. It was 6 p.m. local time and Thompson held a 58-degree wedge.
One half of me thought “Leave him alone. Let the man do his job.” The other half said “Damn it ask him about Carnoustie’s wicked-fast fairways!” Curiosity may have killed the cat but it nurtured our convo.
As we walked up the fairway my new friend was an open book. Thompson who teaches in central England just so happened to make the cut on the number at the 1999 Open at Carnoustie when it was dubbed Car-Nasty. To play four days at an Open he admits is a feat. (He’d help Enoch make the cut too. On the number because of course.)
I had heard about him from a faculty member at the University of St. Andrews and went to visit him in an old stone farmhouse on the outskirts of town. It was an extraordinary afternoon.
So all Graham has to do is miss his putt and we win the match. And Phil looks over at Graham and goes ‘Pick it up it’s good.’ And I looked over at Phil and I’m like Are you me? Now if I miss the putt we lose the hole. So I was pissed. But then sure enough I made the putt we won the match.
But as it happened I was paired with Phil for the closing ceremony and as we walked off the stage Amy bless her stepped between us and grabbed my hand. It was one of the most touching things anyone has ever done for me. Their support was huge.
I stayed in St. Andrews during the Open or on its outskirts and I jogged several times through the old town. The Senior British Open is being played this week on the Old Course but that’s not why the course was closed for play on Sunday the day Francesco Molinari won 45 minutes up the coast in Carnoustie.
Of course Phil being Phil after the Euros lost at Hazeltine ten years later he comes up to me in his Team USA onesie whilst I was having a drink with Davis Love and he gets on me like you wouldn’t believe just giving me all kinds of guff. Brutal but brilliant! But that’s who Phil is: a character a competitor — a natural-born winner.”
And Phil goes ‘Here Charley you mind holding onto this?’ And he pulls this wad of cash out of his back pocket! The whole day I was sitting in the cart just lookin’ around like ‘I’m not gonna say anything here; I’m just gonna let these guys battle it out.’ And it was so much fun. Phil showed how competitive fun he can make golf.”
You’re trying to hit it low you put it on the back foot…’ It was quite funny just him talking about how many guys put the ball in the middle of their stance and struggle chipping. In my opinion he’s the best short-game artist of all time so I definitely took notes. No hesitation. It went into play right away that week.”