Playing with Phil Mickelson at the Masters has its benefits  

phil mickelson and tony finau at the 2024 masters

Phil Mickelson and Tony Finau in the first round of the Masters.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. ­— As the years roll by, for a tiny number of people in a tiny number of fields, it becomes a thing: You’re a legend, whether you like it or not. So you might as well carry yourself like one. Enter George Clooney, actor; Bruce Springsteen, musician; Jack Nicklaus, golfer. Living legend, living legend, living legend.

Tony Finau, the 34-year-old golfer in search of his first major title, came up in the game watching two golfing legends on TV, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. He played with Woods when Woods won the 2019 Masters. He saw at close range what the man, a soon-to-be five-time Masters champion, did to close and win, and he learned from it. On Thursday, he played with Mickelson, a three-time winner at Augusta, for the first time at the Masters. Finau was watching closely. So was the group’s third, Sepp Straka.

“Sepp and I were like, ‘Can you believe how good he hits it?’” Finau said on Thursday afternoon. Finau had shot one under. Straka had shot one over. Mickelson, 53, did, too. That score, 73, put the two golfers in the middle of the pack and in good position to make the 36-hole cut. At last year’s Masters, Mickelson and Brooks Koepka finished in a tie for second, four shots behind Jon Rahm.

The threesome got to 17. The wind was swirly. All three players were playing well. Two marshals were about 100 yards short of the green. They noted the first shot, solid and in the middle of the fairway. The next guy was in the middle of the fairway, too, 20 yards past the first player.

“That’s Phil,” the one marshal said to the other.

Mickelson has been playing, by his standards, some very ordinary golf since last year’s Masters. He finished 47th last week in the 54-man field at the LIV Golf event at Doral, a course where he’s won and often played well in the past. But Augusta is Augusta for him, and that fact was not lost on Finau.

On the par-5 13th, Finau played a curving, electric shot to the green off the pine straw. It brought to mind a certain curving, electric shot off the pine straw at 13 that Mickelson once played, en route to his Masters win in 2010.

“That’s a great shot,” Mickelson said to Finau.

“His shot there is a little more famous than mine,” Finau said, talking to two radio broadcasters from Utah, where Finau lives, and a third reporter. One of the radio men was Bob Casper, son of the Utah golf legend Billy Casper.

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“Phil has always been great to play with,” Finau said. “He’s always giving out compliments when you hit a great shot. It’s been a while since I’ve played with him. He’s on LIV and I’m on Tour, so it’s been a while.”

Finau’s attitude was watch and learn, watch and learn, even though Mickelson’s swing is as long and smooth as Finau’s is short and fiery. “This dude’s still got it in the tank,” Finau said. “At his age? It’s quite impressive.”

Finau predicted that Mickelson would play Augusta well through age 60 and beyond.

Over the green on 14 with his second shot, Finau could have played a conservative, garden-variety, safety-first running chip shot. Instead he hit a Phil Flop to a foot with such deftness that Michelson paid him the ultimate compliment: he gave Finau a thumb’s up. A moment like that can improve the rest of your golfing life.

Mickelson knows what it’s like, to be a golfer looking to make an impact in the game, playing with a legend.

“From the start of my career, guys out here have helped educate me and make me aware of what’s going on,” Mickelson said. “I remember one of the first tournaments I played as a pro was with Ben Crenshaw. Julie Crenshaw and Amy [Mickelson’s wife] walked around. Amy really didn’t really know what a birdie, bogey or par was. Julie Crenshaw shared that with her. Ben shared a lot of great things with me.

“I’ve had a chance to play with some great past champions here. You always have to pay it forward to all the people that have given us such great opportunities.”

Very cool. But, also, what you would expect from a legend.

When Woods won his fifth Masters title, Finau, sharing that final green with him, approached Woods to shake his hand. Woods let it morph into a hug. They signed scorecards side-by-side. All the while, Finau was watching. Watching and learning. As Mickelson did when he played with Crenshaw. As Woods did when he played with Nicklaus. There’s always an earlier generation, a current generation, a generation coming up. On it goes.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at

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