Phil Mickelson may be the most notorious gambler in golf history, certainly of the modern era. His practice round wagers are one of the first things that come up when Mickelson is discussed.
Details of some of Phil's more memorable gambling moments have dripped out over the years. There was the on-the-spot wager he made with a mouthy fan at Augusta. There was the time he made copies of the $100 bills he took off Tiger Woods and put them in Tiger's locker. There was the "Putt it, b**ch" story that Paul Azinger told. He carries more cash than anyone on Tour and he volunteered to a recent Golf Digest survey that, on the spot, he had "$6,500 in $100s and $1,600 in $20s. $8,100 total."
The point is that there's a library of Mickelson gambling anecdotes out there, but rarely does another current player get in to just how much is on the line. Those questions are almost always met with a grin and some ambiguous non-answer.
So Phil showed up to the Farmers Insurance Open this week and was not his usual #FIGJAM and jovial self when asked about a recent gambling story that was widely circulated. Ryan Ruffels, a 17-year-old who is supposed to be golf's "next big thing" out of Australia, made the story public two weeks ago. Ruffels is playing this week at Torrey Pines and told the Sydney Morning Herald about a practice tour he made with Mickelson and his brother just before Christmas. The original details:
"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 of a friendly offer made to him by Mickelson. The 42-time US PGA Tour winner gave Ruffels 2-1 odds; if Ruffels won, Mickelson would give him $5,000, if he lost, Ruffels would have to pay up $2,500 when he turned professional.
"I was a few down through nine but then I birdied six of my last seven to win by one shot and took his money, so that was pretty cool," Ruffels said with a laugh.
Oh, and because Ruffels was also playing with Phil's brother, Tim Mickelson, who is the head golf coach at Arizona State, there were conspiracy theories that this was some giveaway to the 17-year-old that the NCAA might have an interest investigating.
As soon as the story went viral, young Ruffels and his management team started to backtrack -- saying he had already turned pro (or planned to turn pro), the amount was greatly exaggerated, and that the story contained plenty of inaccuracies. "The 'friendly wager' and the birdie barrages' reporting is a bit overdone."
The story was already out before Mickelson made his 2016 debut last week in Palm Springs. It did not come up then, but with the return to Torrey Pines, site of the wager, and with Ruffels making his pro debut this week, Mickelson decided to address it on Wednesday. And, boy, did he not have time for this 17-year-old's s**t:
"He's young," Mickelson said, "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."
Phil often takes aim at fellow players but almost never with a serious and chastising tone like that. It's not exactly the best way for Ruffels to start his first PGA Tour event. He has to be a little shook, no?
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