Tuesdays with Mickelson

By Jason SobelAugust 10, 2011, 7:37 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – I’ll get to the part about Phil Mickelson taking younger players under his wing and mentoring them during Tuesday practice round matches at big events. I’ll tell you all about the younger players gaining knowledge from a future Hall of Famer while learning about the nuances of certain courses. When hearing about the Tuesday games between Mickelson and his blossoming buddies, though, it’s invariably the first question everyone asks.

Inquiring minds want to know: So, how much are you guys playing for?

“A dollar,” Steve Marino confides. “Sometimes two. Press and make it two. Nothing crazy, just a little something to make it interesting.”

“We don’t really play for anything,” says Jeff Overton. “It’s just a fun, friendly game.”

“Not that much,” Keegan Bradley maintains. “It’s more about what he’s teaching us. That’s invaluable. You couldn’t put a price on it.”

Believe the tongue-in-cheek responses or not, but the impact is still the same. When Mickelson first joined the PGA Tour, he would play matches with the likes of Payne Stewart, Paul Azinger and Ben Crenshaw, learning from the veterans while competing with – and against – them. He’s continued that tradition at many of the year’s important tournaments, teeing it up with up-and-comers and helping with their preparation while also working on his own game.

Just call it “Tuesdays with Lefty.”

“It’s just fun; it’s really fun for me,” Mickelson says. “We have some fun games and quite honestly, it’s not even the stakes. It is very little about that. It has more to do with the smack talk.”

The usual 18-hole match – no Nassau games allowed – pits Mickelson and Overton against Marino and Dustin Johnson, though Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Brendan Steele and Bradley are among those who have also played. While the “smack talk” is prevalent and the competition is cutthroat, it’s about more than just playing a scrimmage before the real action begins.

“It’s fun to get out there and put a little pressure on yourself,” Johnson says. “When you’re out there just playing a practice round, you’ve got no pressure and you’re not really that focused. It’s good to get out on a Tuesday and actually get some focus on and see what you need to work on to get ready for the week.”

“You get out there in practice rounds and you’re not really paying attention, you’re not really grinding,” explains Steele. “It doesn’t really get you prepared. If you’re playing with him out there, you’re going to be paying attention.

“If you can’t putt for a few of your own dollars, how are you going to make one for a million or a major?”

According to all parties involved, Mickelson and Overton played Marino and Johnson to a draw in advance of this week’s PGA Championship. The three first-timers undoubtedly gained some important information, though, from the man who finished one shot out of a playoff the last time this tournament was held at Atlanta Athletic Club a decade ago.

Mickelson isn’t averse to helping the less experienced guys – even if his advice is only doled out after each hole is over.

“He’ll do it after we putt, but he’ll say, ‘The pin’s going to be here’” says Bradley, who played a Tuesday match against Mickelson before last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “I was talking to him about some lines off the tee at Firestone – a lot of invaluable stuff that he’s learned over the years, which is great.”

“He went out of his way on almost every green to point out where pins are going to be and where to miss,” recalls Kevin Streelman, who played a match with Mickelson and Fred Couples prior to his first Masters appearance this year. “He showed me different chips and putts that he recommended taking a look at. It was really cool, really impressive that he took time before a huge major to help me out.”

Perhaps that’s why every younger player who has teed it up in a Tuesday match with Mickelson comes away from the experience sounding like his public relations consultant.

“It’s great to be able to play with a guy who’s not only one of the best golfers of all-time, but he’s in his prime, too,” Overton says. “It’s just really cool to have a chance to play with someone like that, especially at the majors.”

“It’s cool to play and pick the brain of someone who has 39 wins,” explains Fowler. “Someone I grew up watching, someone who is as successful as him. It’s just kind of cool of someone to do that. I look forward to someday being in the same situation where I can help guys out.”

“He’s a great guy, really cool, fun guy to hang out with,” Bradley intimates. “Likes to hang out with the boys and joke around. It’s a lot of fun to be able to hang out with one of my idols, for sure.”

There’s no question about the value Mickelson has brought to these other players. Of course, that doesn’t mean beating them is any less sweet.

Asked about getting that post-round prize, the mercurial lefthander flashes his Cheshire cat grin and claims, “It doesn’t matter whose cash it is, it still spends the same.”

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Web.com Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.