When you’re playing a match against Phil Mickelson, what kind of money changes hands?
“That’s not for me to say,” Xander Schauffele explained on Tuesday at the Memorial Tournament. “They’re much larger than most games, I can tell you that.”
Before we get to the story itself, let’s pause to acknowledge something: Smart move to stay silent, Xander! Mickelson likes a healthy wager — and a good story — but he doesn’t like to talk dollars and cents. Several years back, Aussie teen sensation Ryan Ruffels, just 17 at the time, set up a morning game with Mickelson and later recounted that when he got to the first tee, Lefty named the stakes.
“We get on the first tee, it’s pretty early in the morning and he says, ‘I don’t wake up this early to play for any less than $2,500,’” Ruffels recalled to the Sydney Morning Herald. He wound up beating Mickelson with a late run of birdies. Mickelson didn’t enjoy reading the details in print.
“He’s young,” he said in response, “and he’s got some things to learn.
“One of them is you don’t discuss certain things. You don’t discuss specifics of what you play for. And you certainly don’t embellish and create a false amount just for your own benefit. So those things right there are — that’s high school stuff, and he’s going to have to stop doing that now that he’s out on the PGA Tour.”
Okay. No specifics. But stories? We’ll take those. Fast-forward eight years to last week, when Mickelson, riding high after his win at the PGA, recalled a memorable quarantine-era match against Schauffele.
“I remember a year ago almost to the day where I was playing a few rounds at the Farms with Xander,” Mickelson said ahead of the Charles Schwab Challenge. “And we played a match and he went out and shot 64 and I’m like, ‘Wow, all right, you gave me a pretty good beating.’ And I wanted — I said, ‘Let’s do this again.’ So a few days later went and played again and he shot 63. I’m like, ‘Wow, okay. Let me try one more time.'”
Schauffele, unsurprisingly, has fond memories of that period of golf.
“We started playing a lot during quarantine,” he said on Tuesday at the Memorial. “We didn’t really have anything else to do; it was the only way for us to get out of the house. So obviously the mood of the rounds were great just because we’re out and about versus being stuck indoors.
“I was playing really good golf. 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.”
Schauffele was way up in their third match, too, midway through the back nine. When he won the 15th hole, Mickelson pressed.
“He tried to quick-trigger it,” Schauffele said. Mickelson walked swiftly to the 16th tee — some 80-100 yards back — and teed up his ball, even though he didn’t have the honors.
“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 — and hits it to four feet or so,” Schauffele remembered. “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.”
Schauffele grabbed 6-iron and hit a slight pull. That brought the water more into play. But it brought the hole more into play, too.
“It fell right in line with the pin and then trickled in,” he recalled with a grin. “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.”
Schauffele shot 62 that day with the ace. Mickelson was both impressed and intimidated.
“On a 220-yard par 3, I had to press and hit one to four feet and he makes a hole-in-one. 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.’ Then he came Colonial the following week and almost won here.”
Mickelson paid up (amount undisclosed) but he took notes, too.
“The way he played with this calm and didn’t try to overpower every hole but overpowered the holes he should and kept the ball in play and kept 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,” Mickelson said.
He started asking Schauffele questions. What was he feeling with his driver? What was he working on in his irons? How was he thinking about his putting? In return, Schauffele studied his short game and asked questions of his own. There they were, two generations of Tour stars, trading shots in Rancho Santa Fe.
“I think the big takeaway was, he’s always joking around, but to watch a five-time major champ ask me all these questions? I was sort of taken back,” Schauffele said. “And so 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 have to tip my hat and give that to Phil. I think he’s probably, 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.”
Mickelson earned $2.16 million via winner’s check at Kiawah Island. That should be enough to get him through his next few matches at home.