I had a huge respect for him but you were inspired to beat guys like Phil. But as years went by we mellowed a bit. So when the Ryder Cup came round in 2006 I knew Phil and his wife Amy pretty well. That was a difficult Ryder Cup for me.
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 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.
“The Ping-Pong stories everybody’s heard? All pretty much true. He’s really good and really competitive. But my favorite Phil story was probably last year in Boston. I was playing with Phil and Ian Poulter and none of us were hitting it really good but we were all getting it up and down a good bit.
“I’ve had a couple of interactions with Phil but the one time I really talked to him was at Oakmont in 2016 right after the St. Jude where he hit this shot on No. 17. He was right up against a tree and he hit a big slingin’ hook around the tree to about six feet. I walked up to him at Oakmont and was like ‘Dude that was the greatest shot I think I’ve ever seen in my .’And he was like ‘You liked that? You liked that?’ I was like ‘Yeah!”
“Earlier this year we were hosting a client golf outing with Phil at Congressional. I mentioned to him that one of the execs a CFO and a big Phil fan had to decline and was really disappointed. Phil suggested he just give the guy a call.
Six weeks earlier Heather my wife had died from breast cancer. But it was her wish that I play if offered a pick by Captain Woosnam. Lee Westwood and I were the last match out on Friday morning and who do we draw to compete against but Chris DeMarco and Phil Mickelson.
Later that week we learned the CFO was ‘flying high after the call’ and that KPMG had won an important piece of his business. Our team was thrilled and credited Phil with helping to close the deal.”
Now it’s funny — but if I’d missed the putt it wouldn’t have been funny. Now he says he knew I was rattled and he wanted me to make that putt to win the match. So typical Phil trying to teach lessons. But it was wild. I mean a 25-footer!”
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.
As things transpired Europe played very well that year and we won. The ritual at the opening and closing ceremonies is for two players — a Euro and an American — to enter side by side with their wives or partners to the outside to them. Obviously that week I didn’t have a partner.