“Phil’s style — the way it comes through on TV with the fans is the way he comes through with his friends too. We were playing a practice round at the Presidents Cup a team match to get ready for the format.
Searching for the balls was like an Easter egg hunt only more fun. My drive turned up well across the road that bisects the fairway. It was too dark to see the pin so I aimed for a streetlight that was roughly the center of the green.
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.”
As Mike was lining up his putt I became aware of a presence on the edge of the green a gent watching us intently. Gulp. Johnny Law? Still nothing was keeping me from consummating the hole. I stroked in a left-edge bender for one of the most satisfying pars of my life.
“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.
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.
“Did you ever get bored with it?” “Never” he said. “It was never scripted. I never did it the same way twice.” I asked him what his lowest handicap ever was. “A grumpy two” he said. He talked about how practice was frowned upon in his golfing boyhood. Even practice swings. “We practiced by playing” he said.
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.
With Sean acting as caddie and gaffer Mike rapped a putt up the hill to 25 feet. I grinded with absurd intensity on my putt and hit a good one leaving a couple of feet.
“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.
That was the first time I met Thompson. The second time came five days later. He was seated on a curb with a sharpie and British Open flag in hand. Throughout the week he had snagged an autograph from every Open champion on the property.
Between the bed and breakfast host the cheery folks at the Dunvegan the Carnoustie road signs that say FAMOUS GOLF TOWN or even the Edinburgh airport’s Delta attendant there’s a consistent reminder in Scotland: we’re all players of this crazy game.