There isn't much overlap on the résumés of BearingPoint (BE ) CEO Harry You and Phil Mickelson. You heads the McLean (Va.)-based technology consulting firm with 18,000 employees around the world. Although he enjoys golf, the 18-handicapper can go weeks between rounds. Mickelson? He'd be the world's top golfer if Tiger Woods took early retirement.
The differences haven't slowed their budding friendship. Case in point: The pair won last February's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and Mickelson still talks about how You rescued their team in the final round, sinking a 40-foot putt on the fifth hole after the pro lost his ball in deep rough. Sizing up You as a golfer, he observes: "He hits the ball fairly straight. His short game and putting are good. He makes his share of par putts."
Mickelson, 37, and You, 48, who met about three years ago through the golfer's endorsement deal with BearingPoint and now get together or speak on the phone about a dozen times a year, are far from the only pro golfer and senior executive finding common ground. Formed by mutual business interests and an appreciation for what it takes to get to the top, such friendships often blossom on a golf course and can become quite close.
The pairs include IMG Chairman Ted Forstmann and PGA Tour player Vijay Singh, CVS Caremark (CVS ) Chief Executive Tom Ryan and tour pros Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade, and the high-voltage duo of up-and-coming LPGA star Natalie Gulbis and real-estate mogul Donald Trump. This year, The Donald called Gulbis to congratulate her on winning her first tournament, the Evian Masters in July, and she phoned him for advice about a condo she was eyeing in—where else?—Trump Tower, Las Vegas. "I told her it's a great building and I'd give her a good deal because she's a friend of mine," says Trump.
Some friendships are about shared history. Tour veteran Hale Irwin, 62, and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT ) CEO Lee Scott, 58, grew up in tiny Baxter Springs, Kan. (population: 4,246). After seeing little of each other for decades, they teamed up in 2005 at the Champions Tour Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach and have gotten together socially several times since.
Likewise, Irwin and land-development mogul Lyle Anderson, 66, neighbors in Paradise Valley, Ariz., are spending quality time together these days. In 2006 they traveled with their wives to Italy, and Irwin moved his office into the corporate headquarters of Lyle Anderson Co. in Scottsdale. They even play a little golf. The veteran pro, who has the title "Ambassador of Golf" at Anderson's luxury golfing community in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, says he has picked up swing tips from his friend. "He's exaggerating—a lot," laughs Anderson. "We do love talking about the golf swing, though."
Irwin says he sometimes gives his partners a bit of advice, perhaps suggesting a change in ball position or stance. "But I try not to give them a lot to think about while they're playing. When these folks show up at the golf course, they're pretty much going with the game they brought," he adds.
CVS's Ryan, 54, Faxon, 46, and Andrade, 43, all live in Rhode Island and collaborate on the CVS Caremark Charity Golf Classic there each June. The golfers started the tournament in the early 1990s to benefit disabled children in New England. Since 1999, when the pharmacy chain joined in, the event at Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington has raised more than $8 million. "I feel like I can call Tom anytime and ask him for anything," says Faxon. Two years ago, he invited Ryan to buy into a golf apparel maker, Fairway & Greene, of which Faxon is a board member. "I liked the upside: a good management team and a good product," says Ryan, who invested in the company.
Gulbis, 24, and Trump, 61, first crossed paths three years ago when the women's tour stopped at his Trump International golf development in West Palm Beach. They've been pro-am partners there, and were on opposite teams in the 2006 Manhattan Golf Classic, a "battle of the sexes" match played on Governors Island in New York Harbor. The Donald and the glam golfer share a mastery of self-promotion. Gulbis pitches her own pinup calendar on her Web site, and Trump puts his name atop his towers. Both have been the subjects of reality shows on The Golf Channel. Gulbis says Trump is "really easygoing" and "a very nice guy." Trump, a professed "4- or 5-handicap" player, calls Gulbis "down-to-earth and unspoiled."
Sometimes simple things fuel a friendship. BearingPoint's You admires Mickelson's attention to children. At tournaments, the pro signs countless autographs for kids and hands out balls with his initials stamped on them. One of his biggest fans is You's 5-year-old son, Robert, who often calls Mickelson before big events to chat and wish him luck. Now that's a good friend.
By Mark Hyman