A driving force behind the Patriots’ success has been sitting out most of its recent practices. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

For Phil Mickelson, a round of golf Tuesday with Tom Brady was a perfectly good way to practice for the U.S. Open. For Brady, it was apparently a perfectly good way to find something to do other than practice with his Patriots.

According to multiple reports, the New England quarterback hit the links not only with Mickelson but another of the betting favorites at the upcoming major, Rickie Fowler. They played at the Friar’s Head course, located about 20 miles from Shinnecock Hills, site of the U.S. Open, and about 130 miles from Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots have their practice facility.

Of course, Brady was not required to attend Tuesday’s practice, as it was among the voluntary organized team activities that were scheduled for May and June. He did show up, as required, for the Patriots’ mandatory, three-day minicamp last week, and by all accounts he played at his usual high level.

Given Brady’s dedication to his craft and devotion to fitness, which has him set to play at age 41 this season, not to mention his almost two decades at the helm of the Patriots’ offense, it could easily be argued that if anyone could skip all of the team’s OTAs, as he has, without missing a beat, it’s the five-time Super Bowl winner. When asked recently how he has been spending his time away from the team, Brady said, “Just enjoying my time with my family, bringing my kids to school, supporting my family the best I can,” which, on the face of it, is commendable.

However, hitting the links with Mickelson and Fowler — not to mention tossing footballs from yacht to yacht in Monaco at the behest of a personal corporate sponsor — does not necessarily bespeak a football lifer trying to do whatever he can to make up for lost time spent with his wife and kids. Rather, episodes such as those, while most of his teammates were toiling away under the watchful eye of Coach Bill Belichick, add to a growing sense that all is not completely well in New England.

There were eye-opening reports of turmoil last season involving Brady, Belichick and other prominent team figures, and when asked several weeks ago if he feels appreciated by his longtime coach and team owner Robert Kraft, the quarterback said with a smile, “I plead the Fifth. Man, that is a tough question.”

There has been speculation that Brady may want the team to rework his contract, given that it’s set to pay him just $14 million in base salary this season, making him almost ludicrously underpaid in comparison to the recent quarterback deals that have been handed out to the likes of Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins — and Brady’s former backup in New England, Jimmy Garoppolo. The Patriots’ star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, has also sat out OTAs amid reports that he, too, is seeking more money.

Meanwhile, New England’s top wide receiver, Julian Edelman, has been hit with a reported four-game suspension, pending appeal. Add in the offseason losses of Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks, and Brady could have been using the OTAs to aid the development of newcomers Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson, as well as with holdovers such as Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell and Kenny Britt.

On the other hand, who among us, if we didn’t absolutely have to show up at our workplaces, would pass up a chance to swing the sticks with Mickelson and Fowler? The latter claimed he even got some valuable tips from the quarterback, a reported eight handicap.

“I’ll tell you what, Tom Brady can putt,” Fowler said Wednesday (via ESPN). “So if I can take that into this week, I think that’s one thing I took off of him that will help me.”

No word yet on what Mickelson, seeking his first U.S. Open title and a completion of a career Grand Slam, got out of playing with the three-time NFL MVP. Perhaps it was enough for Lefty just to be reminded that if Brady can still toss touchdowns while dodging linebackers at his age, then being 47 in his own right should be no impediment to success in his sport.

For Belichick’s part, he might be taking cues himself from his practice-averse quarterback. The infamously no-nonsense coach surprised players who showed up Monday for OTAs by bringing them instead to Fenway Park for some team bonding, and then he canceled altogether the OTAs scheduled for Thursday and Friday, which were set to be the Patriots’ last sessions until training camp.

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