Lefty has never lost that passion, which is why on Sunday at the PGA Championship he became the longest-serving major champion in the game’s rich history.
Mickelson is 50 years old but still acts like a child. He faces players half his age and likes to beat them, get in their pockets in gambling. Then he tells the whole world about it. And when the calendar turned, Mickelson never gave in to the clock on the wall, choosing instead to fight back and stay relevant.
He is the first player in his 50s to win one of golf’s biggest prizes. To say that someone saw this coming earlier in the week would be like spitting in the wind from Kiawah Island.
Rickie Fowler, 18 years younger and a frequent playmate of Mickelson, witnessed the euphoric scene outside the Ocean Course clubhouse on Sunday night as thousands of fans chanted the PGA champion’s name. Fowler marveled at the accomplishment.
“It’s the same way I speak of Tiger [Woods]; they’re both golf nerds, ”Fowler said. “I spent time with Phil the week before he left [the Valspar Championship] and he was just playing a bunch of golf. Because we were in carts, you could play as many holes as you wanted. He just wanted to go play.
“The love is there. He obviously loves the game. And he always has the will to go and hunt. It’s a big problem. It’s a record. Will it ever happen again? Who knows. But it is quite special. . “
Mickelson surpassed Julius Boros as the oldest major champion. Boros was 48 when he won the PGA Championship in 1968. Tom Morris Sr. at 45 was the oldest to win the Open, during Andrew Johnson’s presidency. Jack Nicklaus was considered old when he won the Masters at age 46 in 1986. And Hale Irwin, in the tournament on a special exemption, won the US Open in 1990 at age 45.
These are outliers. Davis Love III was the last player to win on the PGA Tour after the age of 50 – and he did six years ago.
The game is too deep, the young players too seasoned, the physical skills too demanding for AARP members to remain factors. And yet, here is Phil, nearly a decade after entering the World Golf Hall of Fame, finishing above all, including Brooks Koepka, the four-time major winner who looked set to steal Mickelson’s shine.
“Working harder is the deal,” Mickelson said. “I just had to work harder physically to be able to practice for as long as I wanted, and I had to work a lot harder to be able to stay focused throughout a round. This has been the biggest challenge in recent times.
“My desire to play is the same. I have never been motivated by external things. I have always been intrinsically motivated because I love competition. I love to play the game. I love having opportunities to play against the best at the highest level. That’s what motivates me, and I think the belief that I could still do it made me work harder. I just couldn’t see why it couldn’t be done. It just took a little more effort. “
Mickelson’s 1-over-par 73 on Sunday had its moments of glory and composure. He dug a sandblast on the fifth for a birdie; he launched it on the 13th and made a bogey. He kicked twice on the third and bogeyed; but he blew up a seventh drive to set up a birdie.
He started the day with a one-stroke lead over Koepka, looked doomed after a shaky first hole that knocked him out of the lead, then picked it up on the next hole. There were five multi-shot swings between Mickelson, Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen in the first 10 holes.
But in the end, Mickelson won, helped by the fact that his closest pursuers could not avoid the pitfalls that the Ocean Course presented all week.
He even overcame two equipment malfunctions, one that forced his beloved 2-wood to be replaced after the face collapsed in practice on Saturday night. Mickelson’s 2 iron suffered the same fate in Sunday’s warm-up. So he went to a 4 wood, instead, one that he used several times off the tee.
The result was a nervous final round that saw him hitting 7 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens while still succeeding off the tee and in his iron game. Mickelson hadn’t finished in the top 20 for 17 events since last summer. And here he holds the material.
“When you don’t expect them, they’re unique,” said Steve Loy, Mickelson’s Arizona State coach and longtime agent. “I knew we would win a Masters. I knew he was going to win more than a major. I never dreamed he would win the Open [which he did in 2013 at Muirfield]. Coming back and doing that on this course, after we haven’t had a good two years, it’s heaven sent.
“This may be his biggest win because of the golf course, the location, the odds against him. It’s breathtaking. I told him in a text this morning, I said, ‘Phil, I’m getting too old for this, but you aren’t. Let’s go. ”
Considering where Mickelson was just a few weeks ago, it seemed like an impossible dream. He bugged two of the last three holes at Innisbrook to miss the cup at the Valspar Championship. He was at a loss for words afterwards. He suggested that week that he wasn’t sure if he would accept a special exemption at next month’s US Open at Torrey Pines.
Then he opened the Wells Fargo Championship with a 64 to take the lead in the first round, to follow with scores of 75-76-76, relegating him to 69th. Trying to take the ocean course from Kiawah, where the wind blew over the ocean every day, seemed futile.
But while others faded in the wind, Mickelson stood up straight, hanging close to the head after the first round and moving upwards after 36 holes.
“He’s never doubted himself,” said Tim Mickelson, Phil’s brother and younger son since 2017. “His willpower and desire to win is as high as ever, in my opinion. He loves golf. He loves golf. I mean, when he’s home he still plays almost everyday, sometimes 36 [holes]. He grinds. It never stops for him. “
Things stopped for a moment for Phil Mickelson when he was swallowed up by the masses trying to play the 18th hole. Still with work to do, Mickelson was first caught in the crowd as he watched his approach to the green and then again after hitting it safely onto the green, from where he allegedly made two putts. for the two-stroke victory.
It was a rare scene, a champion celebrated before the job was done. Mickelson, still a man of the people, was among them for a few heartbreaking moments, carried away by adulation.
“It’s a moment that I will always cherish,” he said.
Now a six-time major winner, joining Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo on number, Mickelson’s legacy is assured. But we said the same eight years ago when he swept Muirfield with the Claret Jug.
A US Open is in the near future, on a Torrey Pines course, Mickelson grew up playing. And he clearly still likes the chase.