Gambling and golf

Paul Azinger, Phil Mickelson and a spirited gambling game of Hammer, with no shortage of trash talk

June 15, 2018
Al Messerschmidt

(Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Who doesn’t enjoy a good PGA Tour gambling story, including those who participated in them? We were reminded of this when Phil Mickelson birdied the fifth hole in the second round of the U.S. Open on Friday and Fox Sports’ Paul Azinger noted it was only his second birdie of the championship.

“Which is just hard to believe,” Azinger said. “He was a birdie machine. Don’t bump into Phil on a Tuesday or he’ll fleece you.”

Tuesdays are for practice rounds, which often include friendly, and occasionally expensive, wagers. Azinger’s comment brought to mind a story Mickelson once gleefully told me about how he was the one who was fleeced (though no money changed hands) and the man doing the fleecing was Azinger.

It happened in a practice round prior to the Tour Championship at the Olympic Club in 1993. The two were engaged in a game of Hammer and they were playing for $25 hammers, according to Mickelson.

Basically, ieach hole was worth $25, and at any time, either player can drop the hammer on the other, doubling the bet on the hole, though the player being hammered can refuse. Usually a player who has just hit a poor shot is hammered.

Well, Mickelson was up $400 when they came to the 18th hole, and Mickelson, a Hall of Fame trash talker, was merciless in mocking Azinger, “roughing him up pretty good,” Mickelson said. Presses made the the 18th hole worth $100.

Azinger hit an indifferent approach to the green, leaving him a difficult chip. So Mickelson hammered him. Azinger declined to accept it, so Mickelson amped up the verbal smack. Finally, Azinger changed his mind, accepted the challenge and then somehow holed the chip for birdie.

RELATED: Paul Azinger on Fox Sports' U.S. Open telecast deconstructs Tiger Woods' issues (yes, he has more than one)

Did Azinger reciprocate with the trash talk, I asked Mickelson?

“You think?” Mickelson replied. “If you thought the celebration at the Ryder Cup was bad, you should have seen this celebration. It was about two minutes before I finally putted.”

Azinger then hammered Mickelson, who missed his birdie putt, a $400 miss, as it were, allowing them to break even.

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