I had an experience earlier this year which was one I will never forget. Golf has been a passion of mine for over 25 years and I never imagined I would have the opportunity to share a round of golf with Phil Mickelson. Somehow the stars aligned and I was able to do just that. The following is an account of a very special day for me.
I am an agent with Farmers Insurance and Farmers picked up what used to be the Buick Open on the PGA Tour back in 2010. Every Wednesday before the actual tournament starts on Thursday, there is a Pro-Am that allows mortal golfers like myself to play a round on the course with a pro.
I received a call earlier that month, that I was selected to play in this event. I couldn’t believe it! Farmers picks about 1 agent per state to play in the event. The Farmers Insurance Open was in late January and I live in Idaho and haven’t swung a club for 3 months. I head out to the range in 38 degrees weather trying to dial in my swing the week before the event.
I had invited my cousin Tyler to come with me and be my caddy and he was beside himself to be included in this opportunity. I fly down on Tuesday and meet Tyler at the San Diego Airport because the tournament is at Torrey Pines in La Jolla. We get a ride down, check into our room and soon we find ourselves in a large ballroom for the Draw Party. This is where the real fun starts.
The Draw Party is where all of the Pro Am participants get together and have a draft to see who we are going to be playing with. There are four amatures who play with one pro and you sit at a table with your foursome and decide who you want to play with when your number comes up.
The field for this event is very deep. I call it opening day for the PGA tour. It’s the first tournament that CBS carries for the year, it’s the first tournament that Tiger and Phil traditionally play, and it is the week between the NFL Championship games and the Super Bowl. We are handed a list of all of the available pros and it is incredible to think that tomorrow we are going to be playing with one of these guys. There is Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Phil, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedaker, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Jordan Speith, Billy Horschell, and 54 other pros to choose from.
Tyler and I sit down at our table and find out that we are the only ones of our group that made it. Our other amatures are coming in later that night so it will be up to us to make the big choice. We are waiting for the draft to start when a woman comes down and says to us, “you are playing with the CFO of Farmers and he would like you to pick Jordan Speith”. We are ecstatic about that choice if we can get him, as he is the reigning rookie of the year.
I look over at her and actually asked, “What if Phil is on the board?” She asks me to hang on and starts texting away. She reports back and says, “We are 99.9% sure that Phil won’t be on the board, but if he is, Scott would be ok with that”.
Now we are off and the draw begins. There are two large screens that show which table number is drawing, and there is a number in the corner to show who is drawing next. Now, Phil is from San Diego, he is one of the most beloved players in the world, he just won his 5th major last year when he won the Open Championship in dramatic fashion, he’s not going to be on the board for long.
The first number comes up and BOOM!! We are on deck! As long as Phil doesn’t go first, we got him. There is a woman walking around with a microphone and she goes to the table and asks who they want to choose. “Bubba Watson”. At that moment, I knew I was playing golf with Phil Mickelson the next day. I looked over at Tyler with this look that must have showed this odd combination of disbelief, shock, fear, and the joy of 1000 Christmas mornings.
Microphone lady shows up to our table about 60 seconds later and asked who we are playing with and jams the mic in my face and I state, “We would like to play with the 2013 Brittish Open Champion, Phil Mickelson.” I loose most of the feeling in my extremities and get the heck out of that room. My job here is done! I have my wife on the phone before I am even outside. She couldn’t make the trip because of the late notice of my invitation and it was going to take too much to coordinate who was going to watch the kids and rearrange a very busy work week for her.
I caught her as she was on her way home at about 9pm and all I could get out was, “Phil…….Phil…….we got Phil!!!…..Phil…..!!” I was a bumbling idiot. She was so excited for me but so bummed she couldn’t’ be there with me.
We tee of at 11:10am the next day, so I have about 15 hours to dwell on what is about to happen. Tyler and I head off the lounge in the lodge for a few celebratory cocktails. The rest of the night we felt like we won the lottery and started most of our sentences with “I can’t believe….” We went to bed at a reasonable hour and fell asleep with unnaturally large smiles on our faces.
We get up early to catch Tiger hitting his first shot and watch him go off. After that I went to the range to warm up and hit balls for about 30 minutes. Then it was just a waiting game and have most of the morning to sit around and be nervous. I went back to the range about 10 and hit some more balls. As we were leaving the range Phil walked right by me and it was like everything turned to slow motion. There he was, large as life (he’s 6’3″), and Tyler and I just starting laughing. We couldn’t believe what was about to happen.
We went to the putting green for awhile and I looked up and it was 11:05! We sprint down to the first tee where there are about 150 people standing around and I walk under the ropes and join my group. Phil walks over and introduces himself. “Hi, I’m Phil” he says as I shake his hand. The whole thing is utterly surreal. He goes over and hits first and bombs his drive down the middle with a controlled and violent swing.
Now we get to go. I hit third in the group, and place my ball on the tee and try very very hard to clear my mind. All I am looking to do is get the damn ball in the air. I play to about a 12 handicap so I hopefully have enough game to not whiff or top my drive. The first hole is a 500 yard par five heading right towards the pacific ocean. I just try and replicate what I have done 1000 times in my life, and take my swing. I hit a beautiful shot about 260 yards down the right side of the fairway. Unbelievalbe.
At this point, I decide I am going to get the most out of this day I that I can. I have no idea what to expect from him. We get over next to him and we are walking down the fairway towards our shots and he says, “Where you from Matt”. I tell him Idaho. He says he loves Idaho and has some friends up there and he and his family have skied at Bogus Basin.
He hits his second shot and it is my turn to hit. I am about 250 out and my plan is to hit a couple of wedge shots in to play conservative. This generally isn’t my nature on the course, but for this moment, I just want to hit a couple of simple shots instead of trying to swing out of my shoes to get on the green in two. Phil is standing next to Tyler and I ask Phil which side of the fairway I should plan on coming in from on my third shot.
He says, “Matt, let me ask you this. Do you see an L next to that PGA sign? This isn’t the ladies tour, hit the 3”. Tyler had to turn around because he was laughing, and I said, “Fine, I’ll hit the 3”, with some false bravado. I pull my 3 Hybrid that I can hit pretty well, but I also have a tendency to hook it or hit it fat. I have about a 33% chance of hitting this shot well especially since Phil Mickelson just called me a girl and he is standing 8 feet from me. I rear back and hit another beautiful shot and end up about 10 yards in front of the green. He looks at me as to say, “see?!” At that moment, I knew we were in for an incredible day.
We were waiting on the 7th tee box for the group ahead of us to clear when I pulled out my driver. It’s about 6 years old and I show it to Phil. He tells me that is the best driver that has ever been made. This made my wife very proud when I told her as it was one of my first Fathers Day gifts. He did follow it up with, “Until you get one of these bad boys”, and he is waving his new Big Bertha in front of me. “Can I see it?” I ask. He hands it to me and I am now holding his driver. We walk up the entire 7th fairway talking about golf technology. He is a total savant about this stuff and it was fascinating hearing him talk about, higher launch angles, lower spin rate, center of gravity, and tungsten inserts.
Phil complimenting my drive.
On the 13th fairway, we talked about how important winning the US Open and completing the career grand slam was to him. Golf fans are very aware of this, especially since he competed the third leg of the grand slam in 2013, but to hear it from him makes you realize it’s not just the press fabricating stories. He really wants it bad. He built his schedule around trying to achieve it.
On the 14th green Phil was making bets on who could get in the hole first. “I’m going to try and get in your pockets here”, he said placing $1 bets with us.
My favorite story happens on the 18th hole. It is very similar to the first, a 500 yard par five (we play different tees than the pros). I hit a nice drive that leaves me 250 out. I don’t think twice about hitting my 3 hybrid and hit it well. I again, am about 10 yards short of the green. I have about two and a half football fields to get to my ball and start the walk, when unsolicited, Phil comes over to me and says, “I am going to tell you how to hit this next shot Matt”. The next 5 minutes, I got a short game lesson from the greatest short game player of my generation.
He’s telling me how to set up, how aggressive to be, and to “never, EVER” play ANY chip from the middle of my stance. The whole time I am trying so hard to mentally record every word, but one thought keeps coming to the front. “You are getting a chipping lesson from Phil Mickelson. He’s won 5 majors, been on 8 Ryder cup teams, been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You have his instructional DVD in your house. He won the Masters by shooting a 31 on the back nine. He birdied 4 of the last 6 holes in the final round to win the Open Championship last year.” Ok, it was more than one thought, but that’s what it was like in my head.
Of course I have to go up and hit the chip with him watching an 150 people watching with him. I hit a nice shot to about 10 feet, which I promptly three putted for bogey. Next time, I’ll try and get a putting lesson too.
On the 18th fairway, after my impromptu lesson, I thanked him. I told him I know that this is just another day of work for him but it is a day we will never forget. I thanked him for being so approachable and engaging. He was grateful and thanked me for saying that.
After we finished the round, we snapped a few pictures and grabbed a few autographs and I didn’t want to leave. I stood on the back of the 18th green trying to soak it all in. After a few minutes, we left and I walked by Phil signing autographs for about 300 people. He signed until they were all gone.
Later in the clubhouse, Tyler and I were trying to figure out if there was any other experience one could get, that was like what we had just had. You might get lucky someday and be able to catch a pass from Peyton Manning, or throw out a first pitch, or be in the pits at a Nascar race. Where can you spend a full day with a professional athlete in their arena, playing their sport, WITH them?
I have a friend who said it well. He is in an industry where he has the opportunity to interview recording artists. He said, “Dietz, I have interviewed many high profile artists, but none of them have ever asked me to record and album with them”.
I wanted to thank Farmers for allowing me have that experience. Thanks to Phil for just being one of the guys, on a day he helped us all feel like Pros.