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.
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.
A few years later Phil called me soon after Amy herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. You know Phil — he likes to know everything about everything. So he asked me loads of questions.
He knows all about the movie about Young Tom Morris that came out last year but kept his distance from it. He played Old Tom hundreds of times in various parts of the world.
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.”
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 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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
We walked toward the green. The big clubhouse was dark and foreboding the town deserted. My heart skipped a beat when I finally saw my ball: perched tenuously on the precipice of the Valley of Sin 20 feet below the hole.