Phil Mickelson has been on tour or the death of Steve Loy since the newcomer lefthander promised to play golf at Arizona State University, where Loy was head coach, more than 30 years ago.
They’ve shared at least 7,200 yards of memorable moments since then, with Mickelson building one of the biggest positions in golf history and Loy serving as an agent, business partner and close friend.
Mickelson will be in the field for this week’s CGAuard Classic PGA TOUR, which will not be played simultaneously on Tucson National Golf Course. Lefty won three PGA TOUR events in which the course was used, including the 1991 Northern Telecom Open.
The importance? Not only is it 30 years, but it marks the last time an amateur won a PGA TOUR event. And Loy was on the bag when Mickelson, then a youngster for the Sun Devils, stunned the golfing world with a one-shot victory over ASU alumni Tom Purtzer and Bob Tway.
“It’s a good memory to this day,” said Loy, 69, who was such a rare combination of line player / golfer during his years at East New Mexico University from 1970-73. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business and then earned a master’s in sports psychology from Utah in 1974, after which he entered golf coaching, at Scottsdale Community College (Arizona).
Loy said he first started hiring Mickelson when the player was just 15. Loy was then head coach at Arkansas, and Mickelson was on his way to winning three Rolex Tournament titles of the American Youth Golf Association.
“I walked up to him during practice and started shaking his hand,” Loy said. “The pig was on my chest and he looked and said, ‘What’s that? ‘I said,’ It ‘s Razorback, and I’ll make Razorback for you someday. And he was just yelling at him and it was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. ‘”
Loy had already hired John Daly to Fayetteville. Imagine if Mickelson and Daly had been college team players. But… Loy moved on to Arizona State when Mickelson was a teenager. And while the player may never have been called the Hogs, Tempe’s appearance was a bit more appealing to the San Diego native.
“I would see it every competition, and I would say from one lefthander to another,” said Loy, who was admitted to the gymnasiums at each of the four schools named, as well as NJCAA Golf Coaches Hall of Fame and the American Golf Coaches Association. “Then I get the job at Arizona State in its junior year of high school. And I meet him at home with family. It became a friendship there that lasted ever after.
“After his junior year he was playing the Rolex Tournament, and by then I am on track to finish and sign this. I find out what plane he’s on and get on the same flight as himself and his family back to San Diego (the 1987 tournament was held at Horseshoe Bend Country Club in Roswell, Georgia, just outside Atlanta). I’m sitting in the back of the plane. And I sent a napkin to the flight attendant who says, ‘Gosh, you’re going to be a sun-kissed demon with a good view. ‘She gives it to him and he stands and looks around. He finally sees me and laughs and just puts it back on. And I think, ‘What does this mean? Where is he going? Oklahoma State? USC? Arizona State? ‘”
The coach held his breath. The moment of truth had arrived.
“Everyone in the world was after him at that time,” Loy said. “We get to his high school golf concert. He gets player of the year again. He is standing and… this is life or death as a coach. And he says, ‘Well, I believe that he was the one who was here first and stayed the longest where I’m going to play and that’s the one at Arizona State. ‘I felt like I had just had a baby!’
Mickelson had already won two separate NCAA champions and the Sun Devils had won the national championship before Telecom Northern 1991 appeared around. Lefty was familiar with the two courses used for the competition, Tucson National and Starr Pass.
So far only three amateurs have won PGA TOUR events since 1950. Scott Verplank was the last at the Western Open in 1985. And while there may be a reason believing that Mickelson could show up well in Tucson because of his familiarity with the game, winning was probably another story.
But the best thing Loy remembers, Mickelson was not afraid from start to finish. By the time the first 67 holes were played, Lefty was built with a three-bullet lead.
“We get to the 14th hole and we’re just sailing,” said Loy. “But there is a large geo to the left, par 5, which allows one to go to your right into the barranca. And I say okay, we can bogey here. The next one enters the barranca on the other side. He makes a triple bogey and we lose our three-shot lead after being in the lead for all three days.
“He’s a youngster in college, and I can see him in his eyes. I said, ‘Look, we just have to hit this par 3 and I know you’ll be able to push it.’ We go to the back of the green, long putt, but it rises up there and we do par. Next hole, down par 4 slope. We are one picture behind Tom Purtzer. Phil makes a scratch down there and hits his way within 2 feet. I grab him with both shoulders before he sees a board. I said, ‘Listen to me. Make this putt, and we are tied for the lead. Don’t think it’s over here. ‘And he walks up there and sinks the putt. ”
After a normal par at the 17th, Mickelson came to the 72nd tied hole for the lead. He hit his approach on the 18th par-4 about 8 feet left of the hole.
“I’ve been reading putts all week with him, and I say do you want me to have a look? ”Loy remembered. “And he says, ‘No, Coach, I have this. ‘”