“Has anyone ever gone back to the tee after losing his ball in a practice round?” Mickelson said just loud enough to be heard by Nick Watney, who was desperately searching for his ball in the rough left of the 17th fairway at St. Andrews last summer.
This was stroke play, the loser paying the winner. Mickelson rallied for a two-shot lead going to the final hole, and with out-of-bounds to the right along the road, his tee shot went so far left that even he laughed at his conservative play. He would be the winner again. All that remained was to see who paid him.
“I don’t split,” Johnson said.
Mickelson sent them off to the Valley of Sin for a chip-off, and at one point, they had to wave another player through, another rarity for a practice round at a major. Johnson eventually won with a birdie. Watney had to pay.
“You’d have thought he had a heart attack,” Butch Harmon said. “Tour players are very spoiled. It’s their nature to be pampered and cuddled. This is an in-your-face kind of game. There’s good ribbing that goes on. There’s good competition, and there’s more shotmaking, especially down the stretch. And that’s a good thing. It gets guys in a competitive mode on Tuesday or Wednesday of a major.
“And I like the fact,” said Harmon, the swing coach of all three, “that Phil is getting the young guys involved.”
The amount of money is not outrageous, certainly not like it was a few generations ago, when some players made more during practice rounds than in the actual tournament. It’s not even close to what gets wagered at some country clubs.
“I want it be enough where you feel it, but it’s not going to affect you,” Mickelson said.
For Mickelson, equal enjoyment comes from the banter.
The needling starts on the first hole, and the other players are not afraid to give it back. There have been a few quiet days, like the round with Woods in 1998 before the L.A. Open. They were at Valencia on a windy day when they came to a par 3 late in the match. Mickelson had a 7-iron in his hand and said to caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay that he felt some wind in his face.
“I said to Bones, ‘Gosh, I think I’ve got to really step on this 5 to get it there,’” Mickelson said. “So he hit 6-iron, jumped it and flew 30 yards over the green. We were playing stroke play and I ended up flipping him on all these presses.”
Mickelson said he took the $100 bills from Woods and made a photocopy of them. He then made smiley faces on the copy and wrote, “Just wanted you to know Benji and his friends are very happy in their new home.”
“I left it in his locker,” Mickelson said. “That was the last time we played.”