Standing outside the clubhouse of my local muni, I pull a left-handed club out of the bag and begin to clean the grooves vigorously.
“Man, that was the greatest golf I’ve ever witnessed in person,” I say to no one in particular.
Phil Mickelson himself – the legend, go-for-broke rebel and short-game alchemist – just shot an outward 29 with yours truly on the bag. And here he comes, walking along the cart path toward me with his indelible smile.
It must have been my expertise and nuanced looping that guided him toward such a result. Was it my imagination, or had Lefty been playing some of the worst golf of his career before this? Didn’t he inexplicably win the PGA Championship to become the oldest major champion in history before his game and reputation cratered with a ham-fisted transition to a Saudi-backed exhibition series that created a chasm in pro golf? Didn’t he go into hiding, only to appear months later sporting a leather jacket and the weary look of a hostage? Wasn’t there a lawsuit of some kind? Didn’t a fellow player claim Mickelson had done something truly unforgivable, enough to inspire legitimate hate?
No, it must have all been a nightmare. But this right here – this is as real as it gets.
Mickelson reaches the bag but doesn’t stop walking.
“I’ll be back in a moment,” he assures me while striding toward the front door. “I just have to place a quick bet. Do you think the Ravens will cover?”
I nod quickly in the affirmative, as if I know what that means. Every great caddie gives a confident response to questions they don’t know the answers to.
I place a hand on his shoulder, which is draped in a mullet that continues to grow as the conversation continues.
Mickelson continues, offering a rogue thumbs up to the bewildered cart attendant before disappearing behind the door. I allow myself to think about how big of a tip could be on the way if we break 60.
Moments later, I hear light sobbing around the corner. There, a man with ragged locks is sitting down and holding his head in his hands.
“Are you OK?” I ask.
He looks up to reveal a familiar face. It is Cameron Smith. Before I have time to process that the champion golfer of the year had come to my muni on the same day I caddied for Mickelson, he starts to explain his grief. Smith felt bad for leaving the PGA Tour.
Sure, it was great for Australian golf and he could also see his family more often. By the time his major exemptions run out in five years, golf should iron out issues with world-ranking points and qualification systems. It was still hard, though. The PGA Tour had blackballed him from playing golf throughout the Jacksonville area. He wasn’t used to being a villain. And no matter what he said in the media, the teams were all a sham.
“Just do you, man. Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks,” I say.
Near the end of our talk, I start to become uneasy. It has been at least 15 minutes since abandoning the bag. Mickelson must be furious.
I rushed back. The bag is gone. In the distance, a crowd is gathered on the driving range, bopping their collective heads to the beat of techno music and accompanying strobe lights.
Mickelson is there – he’s giving your average golf clinic, but louder. I run to him, as a good caddie would. Before I get halfway there, the rain starts to fall. The gallery swells, paying no attention to the deteriorating conditions. Maybe the crowds at LIV events are more impressive than I gave them credit for, I think.
After pushing and shoving my way through the horde, I finally reach Mickelson.
He’s upset. I deserted him during a great round, and the Ravens didn’t cover. I’m financially liable, he says.
“But I didn’t know our conversation was on the record,” I scream in anger.
Suddenly, the whole scene has ended. I’m back in bed. My wife is saying goodbye as she leaves for work, and my dog is staring at me just like Mickelson was a few moments ago.
It was a strange dream. Not as strange as reality, though.