Sobel: Mickelson, Schauffele Credit Offsite Money Games for Continued Inspiration
Harry How/Getty Images. Pictured: Xander Schauffele, left, and Phil Mickelson.
Last week, on the heels of winning his sixth career major championship, Phil Mickelson credited playing off-site practice rounds with Xander Schauffele for helping him understand what it would take to play at an elite level again.
On Tuesday, Schauffele offered his mutual admiration, insisting that he’s learned from Mickelson’s insistence at age 50 to continue gaining knowledge about all facets of the game.
Of course, these practice rounds weren’t devoid of a little action.
Specifically, both Mickelson and Schauffele recalled a day at The Farms GC in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., as the site of an epic wagering story during last year’s schedule suspension following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We played a match and he went out and shot 64,” said Mickelson. “I’m like, ‘Wow. All right. You gave me a pretty good beating, let’s do this again.’ So, a few days later went and played again and he shot 63. I’m like, ‘Wow. OK. Let me try one more time.”
“I was playing really good golf,” Schauffele admitted. “To be completely honest, Phil was playing probably some of the worst golf he’s played. Obviously, the course being narrow and sort of strategic didn’t really fit his eye. So, I took full advantage of him not playing well and me playing really well during that time stretch.”
If you think Mickelson would’ve just taken that beating and cut his losses, well, then you might not know Lefty very well.
Instead, they played one more round together, leading to a moment that only one of them recalls fondly.
Schauffele: “We were jawing each other on the 15th green. I won the hole, he pressed and then he quickly went back to the tee to tee off and it’s one of the harder par-3s on the course. And he kind of wasn’t supposed to hit first and of course he hits first…”
Mickelson: “[It’s] a 220-yard par-3. I had to press and hit one to four feet.”
Schauffele: “I’m letting him know that I could make him re-hit, since it’s match play, but since he was getting his butt kicked, I figured I would let him hit it to four feet and not make him re-hit. But it was just funny. I wasn’t really a guy to make too many hole-in-ones and I kind of pulled a 6-iron toward the water a little bit, fell right in line with the pin and then trickled in.
“And Phil just sat — there’s a little mound behind the tee box — and he just sat there like this, looking down at the ground, shaking his head. He just didn’t really know what to do with himself, so I found that pretty entertaining.”
That might’ve been a costly press for Mickelson at the time, but the impact of seeing Schauffele’s best stuff had some obvious long-term effects.
“I went back and talked to Amy and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to beat this guy; he’s probably playing the best of any player in the world right now.’ ” Mickelson recalled. “But seeing that, and the way he played with this calm and didn’t try to overpower every hole, but overpowered the holes he should and keep the ball in play and keep the ball on the ground and hit his iron shots pin-high and being solid from inside 15 feet. I saw what it looked like to play at the highest level.”
A year later, he was hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy once again after winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah’s Ocean Course.
As for Schauffele, he’s trying to prove that he learned as much in victory that day as Mickelson learned in defeat.
“To watch a five-time major champ ask me all these questions, I was sort of taken back,” he said during an interview session in advance of this week’s Memorial Tournament. “What I learned from playing with him was that he’s really a student of the game and he’s never really stopped learning. I thought I was near the top in terms of being the most obsessed of golf and not being able to get away from the game, but I’ve got to tip my hat and give it to Phil.
“I think he’s so obsessive and so passionate about golf that it’s not really a surprise that he did win the PGA Championship, because he’s been telling himself for the last 25 years that he’s still got it. So, really cool to play with him and you can definitely learn a lot from what he’s done.”
There’s little doubt that if — or perhaps when — Schauffele wins his next big title, he’ll again credit those money games with Mickelson, just as Mickelson credited those games as an inspiration to winning a major championship yet again.