It was ’round midnight when dinner adjourned. There was never any doubt of the next stop: the 18th tee of the Old Course. We parked on The Links road and walked briskly across the ancient sod.
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.
He didn’t mean that literally of course. He would be lugging a Tour bag all week and he’s plenty fit to do so. “I teach for a living and always teach with a club in my hand” Thompson clarified. “It’s like I was born with one in my hand. It’s always a part of me.”
Across my whole time at the Open this was all the golf I played. It’s a lot of work to lug your clubs to Scotland to play only one hole. It was worth it.
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.
It was a moonless night but the hotels lining the fairway provided some ambient light as did the flashlights on our phones. Mike Sean and I ripped our drives the sound echoing off the buildings like gunfire as the balls disappeared into the gloaming.
On a par 3 I had hit it to about 25 feet and Phil hit it to about 35 feet. Phil made his putt which put the pressure on me. And he was chattering you know like he always does. I made the putt on top of him and he said ‘You know that ruined a great story right?’
“Oh gosh they’re probably running 20-plus” he said of the hard-pan runways. “The greens maybe 10 1/2.” Next question: Why the wedge? “I’ve just had this one re-shafted” he said sounding like a player. “I struggle to walk anyway without a club in my hand.”
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.
We fed off each other all week. It just so happened that that week was when my youngest daughter Abby Jane started to kind of realize ‘Dad’s not home. Where is he?’ But she saw me on TV and saw that I was playing not with Phil Mickelson but with Daddy’s friend.
Phil’s house is not far from the Callaway headquarters in Carlsbad so we see him pretty often. Phil plays…a lot. He’ll play with anyone who loves the game like he does. He’ll play with our son a high school senior two or three times a year.
I thought Well at least he can have a day off be inside warm and dry. The next thing I heard was that Phil and Keegan Bradley were playing on that Saturday at Phil’s home course The Bridges in a cold rain. As I heard it Phil took him. He seems to come out on top a lot. But the point really is that Phil has to play. Golf is in Phil’s blood.”