Phil Mickelson joined Twitter in August of 2018. He was the tender age of forty-eight and jumped headfirst into the pool. Most cannot believe it has only been three years, as Phil has already created quite a few hall of fame social media moments. Who knew Phil was this engaging? After all, this is the same player who came out of college with his collar up on tour. Of course, that was a different century. In 2021, Phil Mickelson drops bombs online and on the course.

Tuesdays on the PGA Tour aren’t very busy days. Players are practicing, refining their equipment with the tour trucks and maybe a meeting or two with managers and business representatives. When it’s the first round of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, it can be even more quiet. The field is smaller, players are more focused and there to work; almost the vibe of a Players or major week. 

But this particular Tuesday was going to be a little different. Yes, big matches have been contested on Tuesdays before. Capture a couple celebrities and tour players and you have a made for TV bonanza. This was a different sort of match. It was far more organic in its inception. What seemed like a harmless tweet turned out to be a PGA Tour altering moment. 

Harry Higgs lives life with a certain zest that harkens back to the iconic stars of the 1980’s. He’s built like a fraternity house senior and yet carries himself like Tom Selleck. He’s become a cultural icon on tour for his look and personality. He’s laid back, fun loving and great at golf. When Harry had a career week at the most recent PGA championship on Kiawah Island finishing fourth and closing with a 2 under par score on the final day, he went to social media to express his joy. 

Phil Mickelson received an endless number of congratulatory notes, letters, texts, and tweets after his historic win. He even got one from fellow PGA tour player Harry Higgs. In the tweet Harry congratulated Phil for his amazing accomplishment and asked Phil if he’d be interested in a practice round at The Masters next year? (Higg’s finish at Kiawah earned him his first trip down Magnolia Lane.) Social media Mickelson never misses an opportunity to throw a little banter back and forth. Especially not on a night where he made history! 

Phil suggests he and Harry play a practice round together even sooner. Higgs quickly accepts. Where and when will come together, but Higgs poked the bear and smartly jumped on his own newly found opportunity. Practice rounds with a current and former major champion don’t come along easily for middle tier PGA Tour players. Of course, an opportunity to stoke the fire and have some fun has become the essence of the modern Mickelson. 

Within weeks the teams were set. Keith Mitchell was going to join Team Higgs and Phil selected Joel Dahmen as his partner. Next, they selected the site, The Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club; the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs being contested this week. The scenic New York city landscape would be a perfect backdrop for an epic Tuesday “match.” Though it sounds hyperbolic, it really isn’t. This match received zero marketing other than on social media. Yet, when I walked the fairways with the players there were crowds ranging from forty to fifty people watching at any given time.  

That’s a large group considering only staff, volunteers, media and player support (coaches, caddies) were allowed on property Tuesday. Without any official promotion everyone knew where it was and when it was going to be. Pretty savvy social posting by Higgs and Mickelson. Phil certainly doesn’t need to manufacture a crowd, but well played by the other three to seize this opportunity and grow their audience. 

Keith Mitchell has one win on tour. He’s Currently ranked 146th in the world and 101st on the FedEx Cup points list. Joel Dahmen recorded his first win this season, 85th in the world and 77th on the FedEx list. Then there’s Higgs, who is ranked 123rd in the world and 80th in the FedEx standings. Without great play by all three, their season will end this week as the tour cuts down to the Top 70. Even Mickelson who is ranked 58th on the FedEx Cup points list will have to play very well to secure a spot in the Top 30 and Tour Championship in a couple weeks. 

Fifty people watching these four play a match is a significant draw. Especially on a Tuesday where fans aren’t included. In a year where the PGA Tour announced their 40-million-dollar social media incentive program, these guys have created something quite impressionable. Golf’s popularity is already through the roof building most weeks between Thursday and Sunday. Start to develop an audience on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and consumers will come. 

The made for Tuesday match certainly didn’t disappoint. Higgs and Mitchell took an early lead and were 2up through 4 holes. Was Team Mickelson concerned at this point? It didn’t feel like it. The tee box banter was legendary, and Phil gave them all a lesson in the power of positive thinking as he never stopped believing. Dahmen birdies the fifth hole and then onto the sixth. Phil hits his tee shot in another fairway. A reachable Par 5 the remaining three go for the green. With the driver off the deck, Mickelson hits a towering approach around a massive tree over a body of water to fifteen feet for eagle. Classic Phil.

Michell was in for a certain birdie, but Phil was yet to putt. He made three (eagle) and the match was tied. From the start Mitchell gave off the persona he was there for a job interview. Quiet, nervous and maybe just a little happy to be considered. Higgs on the other hand seemed more unflappable. If Keith was the candidate, Harry was the best man at a wedding. You’re likeable and everybody knows you, yet you’re always a little nervous until you give the ring to the groom and make your speech. 

All even after six holes and Phil birdies hole seven. Team Mickelson takes the lead, and they tie the next nine holes. Some with birdies and others with pars. The banter rolls on and the crowd continues to grow. Not just at Liberty National, but more importantly online. An endless number of impressions are being made by the minute and most in thanks to Phil. As Mickelson is playing, he’s also tweeting the results with a bit of commentary! 

Fifty-one year old Phil Mickelson is live posting the results. Not a manager or intern, the player. Phil, like so many current competitors, is no longer behind the curtain. He and Dahmen are 2up with three holes remaining. Mitchell and Dahmen have just tied 15 with birdies, Higgs and Dahmen tie 16 with birdies as well. Joel “DaMan” is the MVP of this made for the modern golf fan exhibition. He continues his back 9 birdie run and closes out the match with a birdie on 17. 

Mickelson quickly sends the note to his followers worldwide, they win being three holes up with one to play (3&1). The 18th Hole becomes a victory parade for the major winner and MVP. As the four finish the 18th, the crowd can hear Higgs and Mickelson mention a rematch. With fourteen birdies and an eagle between the four it makes perfect sense. This version of online matchmaking certainly showed all of us how powerful and “social” the game can be. 

Following my pursuit of this Tuesday storyline, I spoke to the tournament Executive Director. Her first question, how was the match? We talked about its impact and the interest it brings to a Tuesday. Needless to say, she was engaged and on Tuesday of tournament week she’s busy. 

The Golf Channel faces waited for Phil and Harry to come off the last green. Phil spoke first, delivering one zinger after another. In-between his barbs were statements of appreciation for the stage, and his competitors. Phil at fifty plus has an incredible macro sense. With Tiger recovering, Phil has accepted the role of global ambassador for the game. Higgs approached the microphone with a different outlook. 

Harry Higgs tweeted Phil to congratulate him. Tuesday Higgs was a tour player with a wider perspective. He couldn’t contain his appreciation for the moment. To learn from a player of Phil’s caliber is a once and lifetime opportunity. Unbeknownst to him in sending that post, he would benefit so much from losing. The inflection in his voice was emotional.  Harry was a part of something special. Not just for him, but also for golf’s audience. 

My experience in covering the practice round match made a significant impression upon me. I’ve always said that golf was a social game before it was a competitive one. Tuesday certainly proved that in more ways than one. I know golf’s leaders at the PGA tour were paying attention to these four. They are more than aware of the reach they delivered. I’m not sure what will happen next, but one thing is certain if we keep making the game more “social” people will continue to be entertained and play…  

Keith Stewart

Keith Stewart is a PGA Professional and storyteller. He has built a unique marketplace perspective through two decades in the golf industry. As a professional, he has worked at many prestigious clubs on the east coast, most notably, Isleworth Country Club from 1998 to 2003, home to Tiger Woods at the time. Currently, Keith uses his talent as the host of the ProShow on ESPN radio across the New York City market. His expertise in the industry blended with a comedic pop-culture filter entertains his listeners. He's a 5-time award winning PGA Professional who brings credibility to any discussion covering the world of sports. Keith resides in Hopewell, NJ with his wife Laurie and their two kids Owen and Abbey. He's a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA and an avid golfer.