I was able to get him on the phone as we came off the course and Phil spoke with him for about 15 minutes. They chatted as if they were longtime friends talking about Phil’s strategy for the upcoming Tour events and where the exec liked to play golf.
I first became aware of this bit of golf lore in 1991 courtesy of a man named David Joy an artist and actor and native son of St. Andrews who just then was developing Old Tom as a character.
This was sort of my introduction into what the top dogs do. So we’re on the second hole and I think Charley was already up on him. You know they always gamble a certain amount of money. Phil’s about to tee off and he’s pretending to struggle. He was like ‘Oh gosh it’s so hard to swing.’ I was like what’s going on?
Ian and Phil missed a couple of greens in the same spot and both got ’em down with unbelievable shots. We’re walking up to 18 and I said to Ian while Phil was walking a little ahead of us ‘I don’t know I might take you over Phil in a short game you know?’ He kind of laughs and goes ‘I don’t know about that.’
“I have a Phil story from Muirfield Village at the 2013 Presidents Cup. We were doing really well playing alternate shot and we were dormie 6 up with whatever left to play. And I had about a 5-foot putt on 13 to win the match — and it 360ed the hole. Lipped out.
The dude who was watching us turned out to be another wayward Yank. He saw us on the green snagged a putter from his hotel lobby and came out to join us. We parted ways and then Mike Sean and I wound up having up-and-down contests out of the Road Hole bunker among other hijinks.
You know he made me feel guilty! Like nobody can chip compared to you you know? So he’s like ‘It’s unbelievable but when you’re chipping and you’re trying to hit it high you gotta put it on the front foot.
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!”
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.
We talked about his sons the books he has written and is writing working with John Cleese in Titleist spots from long ago the modern game the old game. He didn’t lapse into Old Tom. We were in the here and now. If you like mystery and weird coincidences Scotland is a good place to be.
It was closed on Sunday because it is always closed on Sundays. It is closed on Sundays because Old Tom Morris famous custodian of the links wanted it closed on Sundays. He famously leaned out of his window one Sunday in a house overlooking the 18th green and said to the players below “If you dinna need a rest on the Sawbath the links does.”
“You want Phil stories? I wouldn’t even know where to start . There’s only so many guys on Tour that I can just look at and I’ll start laughing and Phil is right there near the top.