It won’t go down in history as a four-ball match to rival the legendary one pitting Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan against Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward at Cypress Point in 1956, but for pure fun in a classic setting, it was good stuff last week when PGA Tour stars Phil Mickelson and Brad Faxon teed it up at the Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Visits to Cape Arundel by Mickelson, Faxon, and colleagues on the PGA Tour such as Davis Love, Fred Couples, Justin Leonard, and David Toms are nothing new, because the opportunity to play this Walter Travis gem is inviting. When you throw in the fact the invitation is extended by George H.W. Bush, well, it’s no wonder Mickelson and his wife Amy pinch themselves after each visit. This year was no exception, even if Mickelson did fail to improve upon the course-record 60 he posted last year.
The trip would not be complete without the annual presence of Mark Plummer, owner of so many Maine State Amateur titles that it’s hard to keep track of them. Plummer was paired with Mickelson against Faxon and Eric Higgins, the 2007 Maine State Amateur champ who works on the staff at Arundel.
With the former president and his wife Barbara following the action from a golf cart, and with Amy Mickelson and Dory Faxon watching along with a small gallery of members, the spirited competition started at the first hole when Mickelson went straight into attack mode…
Cape Arundel, a par-70 layout, offers relief for guys like Mickelson and Faxon who often are confronted with 7,300-yard monsters. At roughly 5,800 yards from the tips, it is a course saturated in character, with small greens and firm conditions at the heart of its makeup, but players of great skill will try and play it aggressively, so there was Mickelson charging a back hole location at the 360-yard first hole.
He went long into a bog and took triple bogey.
“Brad looked at me and said Phil had told him the night before he wanted to shoot 59,” said Higgins, “so it was too bad. It was going to be tough to do that after that start.”
Not that getting into a quick lead calmed Higgins down. “I was extremely nervous,” said Higgins, who played collegiately at Northern Colorado. “I couldn’t stop shaking for four or five holes.”
Apparently, it didn’t hinder his play.
“He was playing better than all of us early on,” said Plummer.
Through 11 holes Faxon and Higgins were 3 up, and after 14 they were 2 up. But Mickelson and Plummer have achieved their legends – albeit on stages of different scales – for good reason and Faxon and Higgins knew they’d have to hold on. They held a 1-up cushion through 17, affording them an opportunity to nail down victory at the 390-yard closing hole. With everyone in play, it would come down to what it frequently does at Cape Arundel, the short-iron game, and when both Higgins and Faxon hit second shots that presented birdie opportunities, things looked good.
“A typical Phil moment,” said Higgins, still laughing a few days later. “He dunked it for a deuce. I said to Amy, `How many times have you seen that?”‘
The match was tied and while all four competitors felt a playoff was necessary, there was no doubt the final decision was up to their host. The former president couldn’t have been more adamant; the fun would continue. Back at the first tee, Mickelson again hit into a hazard, but Plummer saved par to halve the hole. Then, at the par-4 second, Plummer, whose resume includes a spirited US Amateur match against Tiger Woods at Newport CC in 1995, slipped home an 8-foot birdie putt to provide for a comeback, 1-up victory.
“None of us played particularly well,” said Plummer, “but it sure was a lot of fun.