January 30 2013
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Michael Phelps has stood on the starting block, ready to dive into the water and compete at the highest level, during three different Olympic Games. He holds the all-time record for gold medals with 18, too.
But nothing prepared Phelps for what he felt on Wednesday when he stepped to the 16th tee at TPC Scottsdale during the pro-am at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson.
"I felt my heart was going to jump out of my chest," Phelps said. "... I was very nervous and my club was like shaking as I'm over the ball. I just pretty much had to try to swing the club as fast as I could. But it's wild.
"I have never heard people 'boo' you, but I'm sure it's happened, my face is just under water. So it was a little different experience. Hopefully I have a chance to come back and play again. It's a great event. I had a blast today, and being able to play with Bubba, it's something else."
Watson said Phelps, who is the student on the "Hank Haney Project" that begins airing on Golf Channel next month, has potential -- particularly in his short game. At the same time, when someone asked what the best part of the swimmer's game was, Watson smiled and said "that he's done with 18 holes."
"It's one of those things where it's a great athlete, one of the best Olympians, or the best Olympian, coming to a different sport, so obviously it's a big change, different mental set, different mental focus, and he's not used to it," Watson said. "He hasn't had the practice that we've had. But you can see he's an athlete and he's competitive, so he could be good if he practiced and put some time into it."
Conversely, Phelps said Watson was more than welcome to join him in the pool sometime. "I don't know if he would, but I'd have to give probably a fairly healthy handicap just like he would have to give me a fairly big handicap here," he said.
Phelps said that in deference to the work he's doing with Haney, Watson didn't give him any tips on the course -- but added "he was pretty much giving me a hard time from hole one." The two have been texting and talking since the Olympics and saw each other at the Ryder Cup but Wednesday was the first time they ever played together.
"He really is a very talented person," Phelps said. "It's just amazing to me how much power he has and how fast he comes to the ball."
Phelps said he has a several friends who are scratch golfers and he'd like to get there, as well. While he thinks he can, he knows it won't be easy.
"I see some really good shots that show that, but then I have some really terrible shots that make me the worst golfer in the world," he said. "... I have to try to narrow the gap as much as I can."
Phelps called golf the "most humbling sport in the world. I literally don't think I've ever done anything where I can't like semi pick it up." He's nearing the end of "The Haney Project" but hopes he can continue to work with the instructor, who is one of the three who have taught Tiger Woods.
One of the things Phelps likes about the game is the variety of the courses. And now that he has time on his hands, the legendary swimmer would like to play all of the top 100 in the world. He figures he's got 96 or 97 to go.
"I dive into the swimming pool it's the same temperature, it's the same length, it's the same depth," Phelps explained. "So there's a lot of really cool things like (the fact that no course is the same), and like being able to play in Scotland at St. Andrews and being able to come down here and experience the 16th green here, the 16th hole here.
"I've been able to have some really cool experiences in the sport so far, and there's a lot on my to do list, and we have a long time to do it."
Another thing on Phelps' to-do list? Go to the Super Bowl on Thursday, and he definitely has a rooting interest.
"I'm a Baltimore boy, so I'm cheering for the Big Man, and hopefully Ray (Lewis) can have a shot at another one," Phelps said. "He's been telling me all year he just wants to get back there. This is kind of icing on the cake, and hopefully he can be in the center of that field on Sunday night and hoisting the championship trophy."