Twenty years later, that young kid talks of Mickelson’s brush off
AUGUSTA — In the late 90s at Augusta National, Phil Mickelson turned down the little kid waiting in the parking lot who simply wanted an autograph.
He waited patiently during that first visit to the Masters and came away with about 50 autographs – but not Mickelson’s.
Years later, Mickelson doesn’t even remember turning the kid down.
Well, here we are about 20 years later, and that little kid became a pro golfer, too. In fact, he would win back-to-back U.S. Opens, which he currently holds as well as last summer’s PGA Championship.
Of course, the kid is Brooks Koepka.
“No, he doesn’t remember,” Koepka said Tuesday. “I mean, I can’t believe he doesn’t remember the first time he ever said no to a kid, signing an autograph.”
Growing up, Koepka admits he was the wide-eyed kid who romanticized about being a golfer. His first time he went to Augusta, he knew he wanted to play in the Masters.
“I always thought I was going to play here,” he said. “I didn’t know when.”
But the dreams didn’t stop there. He did everything from wearing Tiger’s mock turtlenecks to copying other golfers’ swings. And it all started with that first trip to Augusta National.
“You’re looking up to watching Tiger, guys I had seen on TV, never really got to see in person, and finally getting to watch them play, you really understand how good they are, and then you go home and you try to imitate all of them, or at least I did,” he said. “Try to imitate Tiger’s swing or whatever it might have been, but it was really eye‑opening, being 9, 10 years old and coming and watching your idols.”
But was Mickelson still considered an idol after all those years?
“I told him, I think in 2014, I think we were playing a practice round at the British Open,” Koepka said. “I had to tell him. I was like, ‘Listen, man, you stiffed me, and I really didn’t like you for a long time.’”
Now before anyone starts criticizing Mickelson for turning down a child for his autograph, there are rules to be followed, especially at Augusta National, and Mickelson was just abiding by the rules.
You cannot ask for an autograph in the parking lot.
“Well he shouldn’t have been there,” Mickelson snapped. “I think I told him that, too.”
Mickelson and Koepka joke about that moment now. In fact, Mickelson, 48, has a great amount of respect for Koepka, 28, and the younger players on the PGA Tour.
“It’s fun for me to play with these young guys and to see their game develop,” Mickelson said. “It’s actually fun stories that a guy like Brooks Koepka, who’s won, what, three majors now recently, has been out here following as a kid. It’s a little weird, but it’s pretty cool, too, and to be able to play with him and see his greatness shine and to be a somewhat part of that or a witness to it as well as compete against it, it’s been fun.”
And just like Mickelson 20 years ago, Koepka rarely turns down kids that come up to him for an autograph.
“You stand here as a little kid – as a player now, you want to sign for a little kid,” Koepka said. “It’s hard to say no to a little kid.”
Koepka says he finally has Mickelson’s autograph ... and Mickelson admits he has Koepka’s.
“Yeah, we have team flags from Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups, all that kind of stuff that we’ve shared, absolutely,” he said. “I’m proud to have them.
“I did it in the appropriate location.”