The US PGA Tour arranges our lockers in alphabetical order. Week in and week out, you’re changing your shoes and unpacking your bags next to the same handful of guys. My best friends are mostly my peers – guys who were rookies when I was, but inevitably I’ve become chummy with the fellas whose last names start with letters close to mine. With one notable exception: Phil Mickelson and I aren’t friends. Outside the two rounds we’ve played together, we haven’t spoken two words to one another.
The first time Phil and I were paired, it was pretty late on a Sunday. We were both in the hunt. The conditions were tough, windy, and Phil was all smiles on the first tee. As he shakes my hand he says in that super-friendly voice, “OK, hey, how’s it going? Let’s have a good day. All right.”
For the entire round, Phil talked about himself. Stories from tournaments he’d played in, trips he’d taken with his family, random facts he’d recently read about obscure topics. Not once did he ask if I had a family, or where I lived, or what tournament I was playing next. However, Phil’s caddie, Jim Mackay, happens to be one of the most personable guys on tour. ‘Bones’ talks like he genuinely wants to get to know you. It’s like he picks up the slack for Phil.
Truth is, I wasn’t much of a talker that day, either, because I was grinding hard. I didn’t win the tournament, but I did beat Phil by a shot.
The second time I played with Phil was two years later. Same deal. If he wasn’t telling us some incredible story or his plan to solve the world’s oil crisis, he was walking down the fairway like the mayor, giving the crowd a thumbs up every hole and practically kissing babies as part of his pre-shot routine.
I forget what I shot, but Phil went low and cut me by quite a few. In the scoring trailer, I’m checking my card when I feel this bump in my ribs. I look over, and it’s Phil nudging me. With a big grin, he says, “I guess that makes us even now.”
He remembered that I’d beaten him. The guy has played over 2,000 rounds on tour. I’m not exactly an A-lister, so that surprised me. Pretty cool moment. Phil definitely rubs some players the wrong way, and I used to be in this camp. But my opinion has changed. I think any ill will towards him is simply rooted in jealousy. Some players just don’t want to believe anyone could be that talented, good-looking, rich and polite, with a beautiful wife and three great kids.
He’s probably sacrificed some time having locker-room camaraderie with the boys in favour of building his brand. The players who are close to him say they’ve never seen his wrong side. Not once. Never snapped at a volunteer, never stiffed a waiter, never been small in any of the ways most humans are now and again. I think every day he and Amy work hard at doing the right thing, whether the cameras are rolling or not. It’s a conscious choice.
If a person makes an effort to smile when he’s not feeling happy, does that make him fake? I don’t think so. Constantly making the effort to be the person he is, signing autographs until dusk, always carving time to speak with sponsors and giving it his full attention – that’s why Phil earns every dollar of the $50 million or so sponsors pay him each year.
Phil likes playing the role of mentor, so that’s why you’ll see him playing practice rounds with guys like Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley. I’ve been on tour over a decade, and so he probably doesn’t have much time for a guy like me. I get it.
– with Max Adler