PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP)Keith Mitchell needs to be sharp this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and it has nothing to do with his game.
Phil Mickelson is in the field.
Retribution could come when Mitchell least expects it because Mickelson never forgets.
This stems from the Wells Fargo Championship last year, when Mitchell went to change shoes for his pro-am round only to find Mickelson asleep on the bench in front of his locker.
Mitchell posted a picture of the unusual moment, along with options on how he should handle it. Those included waking up the five-time major champion, playing the pro-am in tennis shoes or having a loud conversation to stir him. Mitchell included the hashtag ”44-1” to indicate their career victories.
The Instagram post was picked up by national networks the next day.
Mickelson wasn’t happy.
”He’s holding that over me. He’s going to crush me,” Mitchell said. ”I think he’s mentioned to some people his idea, but they’ve been tight-lipped. I heard he’s good.”
Mitchell, a 28-year-old from Tennessee in his third year on the PGA Tour, is no slouch.
Just ask Andy Pazder, the chief tournament and competitions officer at the tour who spent two years trying to get back at Mitchell before giving up.
It goes back to Mitchell’s debut on the PGA Tour in the fall of 2017.
He had a card locked up and was playing the Web.com Tour Championship, which was delayed at least one day, maybe two, because of a hurricane in Florida. Mitchell was to start his rookie season the next week in California, and he wouldn’t have time for a practice round if he stayed to the end. So he notified officials and withdrew.
Two days later, Mitchell was playing his first practice round as a PGA Tour member with close friend Harris English when Ross Berlin, head of player relations, approached in a cart. Berlin introduced himself, handed Mitchell an envelope and told him he was being fined because withdrawing was considered conduct unbecoming a professional.
”I have no leg to stand on,” Mitchell said. ”It’s my first day on tour and I sit there and say, `Yes, sir.’ I don’t argue. I open it and it’s a blank sheet of paper. Harris is behind me filming the whole thing. I was about to punch Ross, and I didn’t even know him. Pazder hears about this and starts bragging about the pranks he’s pulled.
”That’s what teed me up,” Mitchell said. ”That’s when I put a target on his back.”
A few months later, Mitchell was invited to take part in a charity function and Pazder offered him a ride back on the PGA Tour plane. As the jet was cleared for takeoff, Mitchell struck a look of panic as he touched the back of his pants and announced he had left his wallet behind. Pazder rushed toward the cockpit and asked the pilots if they could go back to the terminal. Mitchell smiled at him and slowly removed his wallet.
At the Memorial that year, Pazder invited Mitchell and other rookies to a dinner at Hyde Park, a popular steak restaurant. That was nice, except Mitchell had a sponsor value program to attend. He figured Pazder knew that before asking. Mitchell finished his obligations and wound up going to Hyde Park, seated a few tables away from the rookie group.
”I text Ross and said, `Stall for just a second.’ I get the waiter over and send a `Happy 70th Birthday, Andy’ cake over to him,” Mitchell said. ”The whole place is singing `Happy 70th Birthday’ to him. So he sends the bill over to me as a joke.”
Mitchell paid for the entire dinner of rookies and tour officials. Pazder, mortified, tried to tell the waiter he was kidding.
Too late. The bill had been paid.
”Next thing you know, Pazder grabs a wine cork and throws it across the table at me,” Mitchell said.
Pazder tried twice to get him back. At the second FedEx Cup playoff event in Boston, Mitchell shot 69 and appeared safe to be among the top 70 to advance. Pazder called an official and told him to tell Mitchell there had been a mistake, that he would be just outside the top 70.
Mitchell didn’t flinch. ”Pazder put you up to this?” he said.
After winning the Honda Classic last year, Mitchell went to Augusta National for a practice round. Pazder was playing as a guest that day, saw that Mitchell was coming and asked one of the pros to help with a prank. So when Mitchell arrived, the pro told him that while he earned a Masters invitation by winning, he never committed to play and was no longer in the field. Mitchell smiled and said, ”Pazder is behind this, right?”
Mitchell’s best number was last year at Pebble.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan decided to play and asked his staff to find the right partner, preferably a rookie or second-year player. They chose Mitchell, known to be good company on and off the golf course.
Mitchell got Monahan in on the prank. He had the tour withdraw him from Pebble (with intentions of putting him back in) and then told Pazder he wouldn’t be able to play. That left Pazder scrambling to find a replacement. He texted numerous players to see if they would be at Pebble.
Before long, Mitchell sent a selfie of him winking and wrote, ”Can’t believe you fell for this.” Pazder got the text while sitting next to Monahan, who couldn’t stop laughing.
”It was obvious I was overmatched,” Pazder said. ”So I officially waved the white flag last year.”
As for Mickelson?
He won’t give up that easily, and Mitchell knows it.
Pete Bender, a caddie, once played a prank on Lefty by placing snails on the seat of his cart, which Mickelson didn’t see until he sat down and heard them crunch. Mickelson waited three years. He arranged with police at Firestone to arrest Bender after the third round and put him in the back seat of a squad car.
Bender was shaken until he saw Mickelson come out of scoring and ask police the nature of the outstanding warrant.
Illegal transportation of snails.