(September 22, 1947-September 6, 2020)
The Early Years
The poker world lost the “Poker Ambassador” but he had a great run. I only played poker with Mike a few times. He beat me in the 1st round of the 1st NBC National Heads-up Championship. These are few of the stories when we would battle on the golf course. In the fall of 1989, I knew of him, but I met him for the 1st time at the Industry Golf Course. My team of Champ, David Baxter, Gary Lundgren & I were having a rematch from the “When My Team Puts a Tee in the Ground, We Finish!” story against Doyle’s team with one major exception. He had flown in his ringer, Dewey Tomko, a scratch player from Florida. His other 2 players were Chip Reese and Rich Dunberg. That’s a story in itself but Mike sweated the match walking back and forth watching both teams play a 4-man scramble. We were playing $15k Nassau, 1 auto-press a side. On the 1st day, Mike joined us for a beer as we were licking our wounds in the clubhouse. We had lost $60k on a close match. I asked him, “Well, what do you think?” He said, “The way I look at it is, who’s the closest to the hole is the better team. You guys were inside of them all day but couldn’t make a putt.” That was the way he analyzed poker, golf, and the innovations he contributed to the poker world.
I could never win on my own ball, so I only played 2-man scrambles. My partner had to have big shoulders, but I broke most of them down. Mike was too tough, but I did play a couple of matches against him and Tab. We not only lost but it didn’t seem close. At Industry, after a match, I threw my clubs into the pond and stormed off. They were sitting outside my door dry and all clean the next morning.
He had a short flat swing and could only drive the ball a little over 200 yards which made him the perfect hustler. His short game was good, and he was a good putter. We once beat Chip and Doyle in a match, but they were one and done.
Chuck Schaupe and his partner was a different story. They were legends in the poker world as a couple of sharp sports betters. Chuck was “Mr. Numbers” for his talent with NBA totals. If Chuck liked a golf match and he thought it was fair, he would keep playing it even if he kept losing. He once lost $70k to JoJo Trevino over a series of matches. We had won several matches in a row and we were up quite a bit. One morning before a match, Chuck called me to say that he was under the weather, but that he would like to keep the action going. He proposed that his partner would scramble his own ball. Mike thought that letting a player scramble his own ball might be too big of an advantage. I thought Mike was still the best player and since we were way up, I said let’s play it. I can’t remember all the details, but we were down 2-0 very early. I didn’t pay much attention to it but Mike whose nickname was “Moaning Mike”, was moaning to our opponent about how he better enjoy it because he’d never get this match again. This was straight out of Chip’s playbook. Then the match took a turn. Our opponent boogied 3 consecutive holes and we had flipped him. We were now up 1-3. They were on the other side of the green so I couldn’t hear anything but as Mike came back to the cart he was muttering “he’s crazy”. “What happened?”, I asked. “He’s crazy, that’s all,” said Mike. I was wondering what he was talking about.
We drove over to the 16th tee. Mike was up on the tee when our opponent came to a screeching halt, slamming his brakes. He jumped out of his cart and his face was a livid red and his eyes were bulging. He screamed at Mike very deliberately, “If you say another mother-f*king word, I’m going to go home, get my gun, and shoot you!”. I see what Mike meant now. “You hear me?” No response from Mike. Then at the top of his lungs, he yelled again, “You hear me, Mike?” “Yeah, I hear you,” Mike replied emphatically.
Somehow, I managed to calm our opponent down enough to finish the match. Chuck called the next morning to sincerely apologize for this partner’s behavior, but the golden goose was gone.
A Fair Match
It must have been in the mid-90’s and we were at Hollywood Park and the action was slow. I said to Mike, if you will give me a fair match, we can go play. He said, “sure I’ll give you a fair match.” He gave me 3 ½ a side. On the front 9 I was down 4-2, and I said you would hustle your own partner like this? This story came to mind when I walked up to a WSOP tournament table and the 1st thing Erick Lindgren said to me, “What’s up with Mike Sexton? He says he’s a ninety shooter and shoots a 78. With all his money, how can he lie like that?”
I had quit golf for several years because I just couldn’t get off the tee. I was lucky if my drive went 170 yards. Then someone suggested that I try the new 450cc head drivers. I couldn’t believe it. I could hit the drive over 220 yards consistently.
It was the mid-2000’s and this was the golden age of poker. Internet poker and the economy had money flowing everywhere. Mike Sexton was the Poker Ambassador and a multi-millionaire from Party Poker. There was a large golf gathering at La Costa and Bobby Baldwin picked up the dinner check for about 20 poker player golfers at Red Traxton’s in Del Mar. His group was playing $100k Nassau with one auto press and double on the back. The entire dinner is spent trying to negotiate a match and then after dinner also. No one had seen me hit my new secret weapon so I knew I would have to secure a multi-match contract before the cat was out of the bag. After endless offers and rejections, Ralph Rudd & I finally had a 4 match contract to play from the red, white, and blue tees, and one match with only woods against Mike and Doyle. This is no easy feat because they may inarguably be the best matchmakers in the world. The 2 of them knocked off Huck Seed and Howard Lederer just getting a tee spot. Tommy Fischer told me repeatedly, “Do you know when you’re in trouble with a match against Doyle? When he says, hmm, I might be able to play that.”
Ralph was pumped up and of course Mike and Doyle wanted to put the pressure on, so we played for $45k Nassau with 1 auto press on each side. We won 4 bets or $180k on the 1st match. We should have won 5 bets. On a 125 yard par 3 across a lake, we’re on about 15 feet from the pin. Doyle goes into the water. Mike clapped his hands a couple of times as he always does to shake off his nervousness, but it didn’t work. He choked and skulled his shot across the water. It looked like it would be wet also. Instead it hit a rock near the other side of the pond and flew 50 feet up into the air to land just off the green. They made their birdie putt from 25 feet and we missed ours to lose the hole. Instead of being up 3-1, we were only 1 up.
Unfortunately, I had to fly to Vegas for a business meeting, but I emphatically told Ralph, “Don’t do anything stupid. We just won $180k and we have 3 more matches to play. Let’s take it off before you do anything else.” No chance. Doyle and Mike had too much experience and gamesmanship over Ralph. They got him drunk and made another match-one that Ralph said was the super-nuts. I felt sick to my stomach as I talked to him later that night. I had ambushed those 2 but it wasn’t going to happen again. The next day Ralph lost $350k and I lost $50k. On one of his bets, he bet Doyle $30K that he would be 4 up after the front nine. Ralph was 5 down and I was 4 down. I said to Ralph that we were drawing dead and needed to pay it off.
I’m sure he would have borrowed the money from someone, but I did play a small part in his success. I was the general manager at the Hustler in 2002. He stopped in to say if I could give him a marker for 5k, he would play in a game before he left on his flight to meet with the Party Poker programmers in India. He was nervous and didn’t play long. I figured he needed the cash and even when the marker bounced after 2 weeks, I knew he would make it good.
When he made his score, he became an action junkie at another level. He went from making prop bets for a few hundred to tens of thousands. He threw a spectacular Christmas party serving Dom Perignon and carving stations in his home.
Puggy Pearson who had been a mutual friend and Mike said, “I don’t want to end up like Puggy screwed up on drugs” when I first told Mike about the supplements I was selling. Prozac and Xanax sadly took over the final years of Puggy’s life. No, these are not drugs I told him. They are nutraceuticals that are naturally occurring, but this was 2011 and my knowledge was not as expansive as it is now. I failed to make Mike see the difference. Now I will have to wonder because glutathione enhancement prevents oxidative stress which causes cancer and other diseases and conditions. Dr. Ray Strand on Cancer