Do you ever play money games with Ryan Palmer or Todd Hamilton or any of the other pros who live and play at Vaquero?
I should, but it's really just practice. I like playing in the Phil money game, the Mickelson game on Tuesdays. It's competitive. I've played in that a few times, and you're so ready to play in the tournament after that.
Mickelson loves to get in guys' ears. Give us your best Phil smack-talking story.
A few months back, Phil and I were playing a match in an off-week, and we were on the 10th green, both about eight feet away for birdie. He said, "I found the secret to putting." And I said, "Really?" Well, I make my putt and he misses, and because he's always jabbing me, I say, "Looks like I had the secret to putting on that one." He thinks about it for about 10 seconds and says, "Yeah, but I had the secret to putting at the British Open." [Laughs] Yes, he did.
You rapped with Bubba Watson on the 16th tee during the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Were you more nervous for that or the golf?
I was going to do it anyway. I had the helmet in the bag and everything. And then Bubba and I got paired together. I mean, are you kidding me? It was perfect. And there's a guy who stands up there and says, "Hey, crowd, be quiet," and so we went over and grabbed his microphone. But, yeah, I was nervous.
Rory Sabbatini famously left you in the dust at the 2005 Booz Allen at Congressional. Have you gotten much faster with your pace of play since then?
Rory and I are friends, and I've tried to get better. Last year I talked to Jon Brendle, a Tour official, and they see everything. I said, "Hey, how am I doing?" His reaction was very positive. He said, "Just keep up with the group in front of you." I don't want guys to get bummed out when they get paired with me. I didn't even know in high school and college golf that I was slow. No one ever said anything.
You beat Rory Mcllroy 8 and 7 in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in 2011, and later that year you made eight birdies in the last 11 holes to force a playoff with Webb Simpson in the McGladrey Classic, which you then won. Were you hotter when you thumped Rory or when you beat Webb?
When I made those eight birdies, I got so hot with the putter. Webb told me he went back and watched the broadcast, like, six months later. He said, "I got so mad. They were going in from across the green!" With Rory, I was playing some of the best golf of my life, but my back went out the next morning on the range.
You finished the year 139th in driving distance. Was that because of your back?
My clubhead speed on the Nation-wide Tour was about 124 miles an hour. If I saw the front lip of a bunker 300 yards out, I wouldn't even think about it -- I'd just fly it. I was so long. I was No. 1 in driving distance for the first five months of the season out there, but then I got injured and stopped working on being fast, and now I'm way down in driving distance. [Laughs] I can't smoke it anymore.
Did that inspire you to become a better short-game player?
It contributed to it. Plus, when you're not feeling well you can at least work on your chipping and putting, which I did. I would swing on a launch monitor and think about how I could get faster. I went from 115 mph to 124 mph in about a year.
You've worked with short-game coach James Sieckmann for a few years. How much of your short-game prowess do you owe to him? Why do you two click?
I was having some trouble with my chipping and pitching, with my contact, especially on Bermuda grass with tight lies. I was like, "I'm missing something." I spoke to Tom Pernice, who said, "You should go see my guy." I said, "You've got a guy?" It's been dynamite. I think I'm top 10 in bunker play. He really understands the mental game, too.
Have you also seen improvement in your wedge play?
I'm much more confident with that 50-yard shot, the 60-yard shot, just because he's taught me proper technique and how to practice for that shot. The difference between the best player in the world and the guy who finishes 100th on the money list is not much -- maybe one shot a round.
It's a fine line out there. "It's a fine line between clever and stupid." Do you know what that's from?
"This Is Spinal Tap." Have you seen that film?
No. I haven't.
You have to see "Spinal Tap"! For a comedy lover, it's an absolute must.
Okay, it's on my list. I'll write it down.
You used to not look at the Tour pairings to see who you were playing with the next day, in case it was someone you grew up idolizing. Do you still not look?
I still don't look. The Tour sends you your tee time for the next day, but it goes to my caddie's phone, it goes to my wife's phone, but not to my phone. Some guys will spoil the surprise and say, "Looks like it's you and me tomorrow."
You learned the game at the age of 5 from your grandfather, right?
Yeah, my grandpa was like my best friend, and if I wanted to hang out with him we were going to play golf. The cool thing was, he had three old guys he played with, and one of his cronies died when I was 8 or 10, so I took his spot. We gambled a lot. We played a dime a hole, and double or nothing on 18, so it was big money. That was when I learned to love the game. That was at Portland Golf Club, which we live a block away from in the summer.
Are you a member there?
Yeah, they gave me an honorary membership. They have a plaque saying that that's where I learned to play. There's a lot of history there. They had a Ryder Cup in . Hogan played there, and a lot of the greats, so they're like, "Do you want us to put your plaque up?" [Laughs] I'm like, "No, no, in the ground is fine." So they put it in the ground next to the putting green.
You're a big tennis fan. What else did you play as a kid?
I'd seen my dad going to work every day [he owned a small media-development firm] and I thought, That looks terrible. I've got to figure out professional sports. I played basketball until 10th grade, but I was vertically challenged and maybe the fourth-best player on my team. Soccer, I was the third-best guy on my team. Baseball, I'm kind of afraid of the ball. Golf, well, I was the best golfer of my five friends, so I decided to go for it. I quit everything else, practiced every day as hard as I could. The pro I worked with growing up used to say, "I think if I worked a little harder I could've made it." I thought, I'll never say that.
So you got your 10,000 hours in.
Thirty-five thousand -- I added 'em up.
So you should be really good by now, given you've put in more than three times as much as the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell recommends in his book "Outliers."
I read "Bounce" [by Matthew Syed] and "Talent is Overrated" [by Geoff Colvin]. I think Bounce is the best one. He proved that guys like Mozart, Roger Federer -- it has nothing to do with genes; it's about putting in specific, intense hours of practice. Of course, you can't play post for the Houston Rockets if you're my size.
So you don't think you have any more innate ability at golf than a bogey golfer?
No. I think we all have unique gifts, but just about anyone can train to be just about anything.
Well, that's both encouraging and discouraging. Four victories on Tour, two Web.com wins -- are you done? You're 37, and you've got a bad back. Is this it?
No. I'm planning to do the Steve Stricker thing. I'm planning to go to 47, and I'm planning to have the best decade of my career from 37 to 47. I am so confident that my best golf is in front of me -- and this is the shooter's mentality in basketball -- that I'm thinking of putting money down on myself in Vegas.