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Steele and Bradley were invited to join Mickelson for a nine-hole round at Sawgrass this year. They thought it was going to be a regular practice round. They quickly learned otherwise.

“It was pretty cool,” Bradley said. “We got on the tee and he said, ‘Here’s the game we’re playing.’ It wasn’t like, ‘What do you want to play?’ It was ‘Here’s what we’re playing.’ It gets you thinking. It’s better to be playing than just messing around. And he was great. He was open to any questions, and he did more teaching than anything.”

That stopped when they got to the final hole, the par-5 ninth.

“I was one shot down to Phil and Keegan,” Steele said. “They hit it out to about 15 feet with their chips, and I hit it to about a foot from the front bunker to put the pressure back on them. Keegan missed. And then Phil, for the first time all day, started to grind. He got Bones in for the read, he looked at it from all sides. He got into the putt, then backed off and told us to get our wallets out.

“He poured it right in the middle.”

Johnson got his first dose of Mickelson in the month before his rookie season. He went out to San Diego to test equipment, and joined a few of the TaylorMade reps for golf with Lefty at the Bridges of Rancho Santa Fe.

Mickelson and Johnson became fast friends.

“We had just met, and he started chirping,” Johnson said. “And I chirped right back. He likes to talk. But he likes it more when you talk back to him. He’ll dish it out, but he can take it. Some guys can’t handle that.”

Johnson got into Mickelson’s pocket that day, and it wasn’t the last time. By all accounts, he’s one of the few who is up on Mickelson.

“It really has nothing to do with what we’re playing for,” Johnson said. “We want bragging rights. You learn to focus, you get a little pressure on you, and you see what kind of shape your game is in, especially going into a major.”


Azinger doesn’t understand why more guys aren’t playing money matches. The culture has changed. A typical PGA Tour event has a $6 million purse, with the winner getting $1 million or more. That’s house money.

That’s not what attracted him to Mickelson.

He remembers one game when Mickelson was playing with Ben Crenshaw against Azinger and Stewart. Mickelson was going to win, it was just a matter of how much. The game was called “Hammer,” and the payout would be substantially less if Lefty was forced to make the putt. After some persuading, Stewart took the bet. Mickelson poured in the putt, then looked up at Azinger and simply smiled.

“If you can’t play for your own money, how are you going to play when you have prestige on the line?” Azinger said. “I knew Phil was going to be great because of how he played for his own money.”

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