MSU coach Tom Izzo feels the heat, tees it up with heavy hitters at AREA 3-1-3 scramble
Detroit — Tom Izzo has been on some of the biggest stages in college basketball.
He’s been to eight Final Fours, coached a game on an aircraft carrier and in 2016 was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
But that was all child’s play compared to standing on the 16th tee at Detroit Golf Club on Tuesday with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Lexi Thompson. The Michigan State coach was once again playing the AREA 3-1-3 celebrity scramble, a three-hole exhibition leading up to this week’s Rocket Mortgage Championship.
Izzo played in the event two years ago, but nothing truly gets folks used to standing on the tee with everyone, including some of the best in the world, watching. For the esteemed coach, it was a humbling experience.
Or, perhaps, a little more than that.
“Humiliating, to be very honest. Humiliating,” Izzo said laughing when asked what the experience was like. “I liked it when I got to chip and putt because then I felt like I was on a little more level surface. Those drives (of mine) were not good.”
Of course, instead of honing his game, Izzo has been busy throughout June on the recruiting trail.
It’s not like his drives were that bad, and he had the luxury of being teamed up with Mickelson, who won the PGA Championship last month at the age of 50, as well as Symetra Tour player Shasta Averyhardt. The Flint native, who played on the LGPA Tour in 2011 and 2013, earned a spot into next month’s Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland by winning The John Shippen on Monday.
Izzo followed his teammates as Averyhardt drained birdie putts on No. 16 — the par-4 that Izzo’s team started on — and No. 15 — the par-3 where the team closed out the event.
He did his best to shake off the nerves of playing with the world’s best. After DeChambeau crushed a drive at the par-5 14th hole, Izzo was up next.
“I’ve been embarrassed before,” Izzo joked.
He did fine, putting his drive in the fairway before dunking his approach in the water. Later, Izzo put his tee ball on the par-3 15th on the green.
“On the tee, a little bit,” Izzo said of whether the nerves led to some bad swings. “I mean, I'm watching Bryson hit it into another country and then I gotta get up behind him. So, you get a little bit of nervousness. But what was nicer here is the crowd was on the side or behind you. When they're lined up in front of you, I’m thinking I'm going to maim somebody or something, so I’m a little more nervous when it's like that.”
While Izzo did his best to contribute, he mainly stood back and admired the level of the players on his team.
“I was interested in listening to Bryson and Phil, they were talking about the mental part of the game,” Izzo said. “And I was kind of looking at putting in like free-throw shooting and things like that, you know?
“So you always kind of wonder what champions do. Those guys are champions and they've done it in an individual sport, which I think mentally has got to be the toughest thing to do. And that's why I have great respect for what they do.”
The star power wasn’t all on the same tee with Izzo. In addition to his team led by Mickelson and the one that included DeChambeau, the defending Rocket Mortgage Classic champion, and Thompson, a major winner on the LGPA Tour, the other holes were loaded.
Former world No. 1 Jason Day led the winning team while two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson led another along with five-time winner Rickie Fowler and fan-favorite Harold Varner III.
Other celebrities on the course included Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, NFL Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald and long-drive champion Maurice Allen.
“Oh yeah, (it was) a blast,” Sanders said of taking part in the challenge.
The three-hole celebrity scramble was played over the signature stretch of the course — the par-5 14th, the par-3 15th and the par-4 16th. Day's team shot 4-under over the three holes, highlighted by an eagle at No. 14. Day hit his approach shot over the water to about 5 inches.
His team also included 48-year-old Timothy O'Neal, for his second win of the week. O'Neal won the inaugural John Shippen tournament to earn an exemption into this week's RMC.
The AREA 3-1-3 is a charity fund-raiser for the tournament, which also features a promotion that triggers a $313,000 charity donation — half to the player's choice — should any player go 3-1-3 (eagle-ace-birdie) at any point in the four-day tournament on those three holes.