SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — They’ve been talking trash to each other all week, in the totally fun sense of the word, and today their golf clubs did the talking.
Here’s how it stands so far: Keegan Bradley 1, Phil Mickelson 0.
Bradley and Mickelson are good friends, Ryder Cup partners and frequent practice-round challengers. When Bradley blew it past his mentor in a Waste Management Phoenix Open practice round earlier in the week, he left a note in Mickelson’s locker informing him that the “senior tees are not that far off.”
You want to hurt Phil, you go after his long-drive manhood. Mickelson responded by saying he’s picked up more clubhead speed in the offseason and that had he known Bradley was going to make a big deal out of it, he would have swung a fraction harder and blown it past Bradley.
It’s all in good fun, of course, but Mickelson isn’t going to get the laugh last after Thursday’s opening round. Mickelson got off to a bad start, made a double bogey at the 15th hole after hitting a shot into the water on the par 5 and was three over par through six holes. He rallied gamely with birdies on the last two holes to shoot 69, two under.
Bradley wins all of the bragging rights, however. He had seven birdies, one bogey, for a 6-under 65 and the lead after the morning half of the field completed play.
How’s that, Phil?
It’s pretty good, that’s how it is, especially considering that this was only Bradley’s second tournament in the 2015 calendar year. He tied for 48th in last week’s Humana Challenge after taking some time off from tournament play for the first time, and admittedly is super-eager to get back to golf. Oh, and he’s also super-eager for the Super Bowl being played Sunday just up the road, since he’s a huge New England Patriots fan and has even traded texts with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Anytime he can one-up Phil, Bradley is happy.
“I had a close eye on Phil today, he was right in the group in front of me,” Bradley said. “I try to peek up and see where he’s hitting from. I saw him hitting first a lot in that group ahead of me.”
Bradley laughed along with a group of writers. “I’m not too worried about that,” he added.
“The thing that everyone needs to know about Phil is, you’ve got to let him think he’s right,” Bradley said. “You let him think he’s getting in my head but in reality, he’s been here talking to you guys about me. So I’m in his head. He doesn’t have a clue. We all know he’s a psychology major. We have heard that a million times.”
More laughs. “I’m not afraid of him,” Bradley said.
One-upping Phil is good. One-upping the entire morning half of the field is better. Bradley had a one-shot lead over Zach Johnson, Robert Streb, Martin Laird and Ben Martin.
Even more important, it’s a relief for Bradley to continue to putt well with a conventional putting style instead of the belly putter he’d used most of his career. He’s not waiting for next year’s ban on anchored putting to go into effect, he’s already trying to make the switch.
“I’m still a work in progress,” he said of his putting. “I’m nervous every round I go out because it’s new to me. I haven’t played a lot of tournaments with the short putter. It’s different. It’d be like if I stuck a belly putter with one of the guys who’s never used it. It’s different. So I’m working every day. I know I’m going to have good days and bad days but with every round, I feel more and more comfortable.”
Mickelson was happy to salvage something after a bad start. Birdies on his final two holes, the eighth and ninth, turned a bad day into a good one.
“It was just a good solid round at two under but I had a lot of work to get there after being three over,” Mickelson said. “I felt like my game was sharp but I got off to a rough start. I got a little antsy and tried to force things and hit into the water at 15. I needed to be patient.”
Besides being fired up after a good opening round, Bradley is excited about his Patriots and the chance to attend a Super Bowl. “I’m very up to date with what’s going on,” he said. “The first thing I do after I play is go on ESPN.com and read anything about Deflate Gate or what’s up next. I’m so pumped. I never thought I’d get to a Super Bowl in my life, let alone watch the Patriots play and win one. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The better he plays, the later he’ll finish on Sunday. Which could conflict with attending the game a few miles away in Glendale, Ariz.
“I will do whatever it takes to get to that game,” he said. “If I have to get in a car and go 150 miles an hour, I’m going to do it. I can’t be this close to a Super Bowl with the Patriots playing and not go. So I will be there at some point.”
If Bradley wins the Phoenix Open and the Patriots win the Super Bowl, rest assured, Mickelson is going to hear about it from him. A lot.