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The Biggest Tipper!

'A little something for the effort': Phil Mickelson has no match for sharing the wealth

September 2014

Phil Mickelson's ball started left and kept fading. Left of Winged Foot's 72nd-hole fairway; left of the rough, the crowd, the trees lining the fairway, and into a hospitality tent stationed on the neighboring hole. After four more shots, Phil held his head in his hands before making a meaningless putt.

"I just can't believe I did that," he said afterward. "I am such an idiot."

The worst collapse of Mickelson's career was complete. He had lost the 2006 U.S. Open by one shot with a double bogey on the final hole.

But that's not where the story ends. After making the obligatory media stops and signing autographs, Phil sought out Winged Foot's staff members. He thanked them for their work, shook their hands, and discreetly handed each a wad of cash: $1,000 here, $1,500 there. Phil had spent a lot of time preparing at Winged Foot before that year's Open, so he wanted to thank everyone.

It's reasonable to estimate that Mickelson handed about $10,000 in tips to staff throughout the week, according to people who were there. But as he was driving away, Phil felt compelled to turn the car around. In the craziness after his collapse, he realized he had forgotten to tip a handful of the locker-room guys, and he didn't want to leave without taking care of everyone.

"Phil is one of the most generous men I've ever had the pleasure of knowing," says Doug Steffen, the director of golf at Baltusrol Golf Club, where the year before Winged Foot, Mickelson had claimed his second major championship. "The way he takes the time to meet all the staff and thank them for their work, I've never seen anything like it."

Everyone has a Mickelson tipping story. ESPN's Rick Reilly says his favorite happened in the Augusta National parking lot the Sunday night of Phil's first Masters victory, in 2004. "There were three emotional club employees giving him long bear hugs," Reilly wrote. "Turns out they were the lower-locker-room guys who were losing Mickelson and his fat $1,000 tips to the Champions Locker Room guys upstairs. They were nearly weeping."

TRAINING WHEELS FOR TIPPING

Like most things on the PGA Tour not involving golf, tipping has become its own little world. It starts on the Web.com Tour, filled mostly with golfers straight out of college. So the tour assumes a kind of coaching role, preparing players for life in The Show.

After getting tipping pointers during orientation, players get text messages and memos throughout the season, reminding them to tip as they go. At the start of every week, when players check in for tournaments, Web.com Tour staff members collect $20 from each player to give to the locker-room workers on Sunday.

"We're just trying to educate guys," says Jim Duncan, vice president of Rules, Competitions and Administration on the tour. "The Web.com Tour generally doesn't have the kind of resources that make clubs jump up and down because of the money we help them make, but we try to do right by them, and I keep hearing stories about how the staff looks forward to having us back each year."

Purses on the Web.com Tour hover around $700,000—with the winner's share around $125,000--so it's not unusual for pros to spread the wealth after a victory. Johnson Wagner holds the most famous story in that department. After his second win on the Nationwide Tour in 2006--the same year as Phil's famous collapse at Winged Foot—Wagner purchased a new flat-screen television for the tour's 18-wheel mobile-operation hub known affectionately as "the truck."

"Our guys, they love that thing," Duncan says of the television. "Johnson's just one of those guys who wanted to give back a little bit."

The PGA Tour is structured similarly to its developmental tour, albeit with the formality kicked up a few notches.

Like the Web.com Tour, players are briefed at the start of the season about what's expected in the tipping department--mainly, in the words of Andy Pazder, the executive vice president and chief of operations, "to conduct themselves in a professional manner that's come to be expected of professional golfers."

At the start of each week, tournament officials give locker-room attendants a list of every player in the field. The tour's official tournament regulations stipulate that players are required to tip locker-room attendants a minimum of $50 for the week. In a 156-player field, that comes to at least $7,800 divided among the handful of attendants clubs usually employ.

If players forget--perhaps after a bad round or when they're in a hurry—attendants are encouraged to notify the tour, which will follow up with the specific players and deliver the missing tip. If a player doesn't pay the minimum gratuity, the tour reserves the right to take disciplinary action, but this is never an issue.

"Tournament weeks, it's kind of like the Super Bowl to [locker-room attendants]," Pazder says. "It's grueling and tiring. It's a lot of work, and guys don't get much sleep, but it's also very rewarding."

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