JOHNS CREEK, GA. -- It is hard to tell when one era ends and another starts in golf, which has guys in their 40s competing against guys in their teens. So by no means does Phil Mickelson consider himself yesterday's news. It is just that he tries to help tomorrow along.
Mickelson is intense about the PGA Championship this week at Atlanta Athletic Club. He declined his usual pre-tournament news conference and he was serious enough about his own preparation to play a practice round Tuesday with his usual veteran crew, Jeff Overton, Dustin Johnson and Steve Marino.
But at other tournaments -- including the Bridgestone Invitational last week -- the 41-year-old four-time major champion plays spirited pre-tournament matches with the next generation, especially Keegan Bradley, 25, and Brendan Steele, 28. Mickelson believes he owes it to them, and to golf, to help them along.
Mickelson said he gets as good as he gives. "I don't mind being jibed, I think they're funny," he said at the Bridgestone over the weekend.
Bradley, the former St. John's star, is somewhere between respectful and awed by Mickelson. The first time he sent Mickelson a text, he included his full name at the bottom, just to be sure he knew where it came from.
"Phil, he takes a lot of guys under his wing, I guess you could say, more than people know about," Bradley said. "I played with him in a practice round at The Players, and he gave me his phone number and said text me any time. And sure enough, one of the first texts I got after I won at the Nelson was from Phil and Bones , which was pretty cool."
In Mickelson's view, this is part of the natural order. He isn't so old that he has forgotten when he was a young player. "I had great stuff with Paul Azinger and Ben Crenshaw and Payne Stewart, we had a lot of fun," he said. "Zinger and I had some good games. He can really dish it. He's an all-pro disher. I learned from him. And Fred Couples, we've had some good games over the years. It's weird for me to think of it like that, but I really enjoyed playing with those guys."
The point is that he wants younger golfers -- especially those, like Bradley, who are under the same management company's umbrella -- to be toughened. So they play flat-out 18-hole matches. No $5 Nassaus. Steele said he has seen Mickelson really bear down when the match is on the line.
Mickelson said, "There's no better way to feel pressure and handle pressure, and get you ready for a final round or get you ready for a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, than playing for your own money. I think that's the best way to feel pressure and learn to compete."