In front of screaming and euphoric fans of this opulent corner of South Carolina, Phil Mickelson has entered the record books. At 50, Mickelson became the longest-serving winner of all time. It was only fitting that the galleries, which were shooting vehemently for Mickelson, returned in force to witness the creation of the story. They assaulted the champion as he played his last hole.
Nothing in the modern age of golf will surpass Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters triumph, but Mickelson has now run his old nemesis from close quarters. A second success at the US PGA Championship means Mickelson, whose career regularly seems to fade into obscurity, has six major titles to his name. This total is only a shy of Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones. Seve Ballesteros has won “only” five. The fact that Mickelson won the Wanamaker Trophy, eight years after taking delivery of the number five major at Muirfield, belied his years of advancement.
It was the glory of the ages, a sports fairy tale and a lesson in life for the fifties. “I just thought it was possible, but everything said it wasn’t,” said Mickelson. “I hope others will find this inspiration. It may take a little extra work, a little more effort to physically maintain or maintain the skills, but it’s worth it in the end.
“I love this game of golf. I love what I do and I love the challenge of competing with such great players.
Mickelson was already known as one of the best to ever play this ridiculous game, but his tenacity on a brutally difficult Kiawah Island deserves immense praise. Some scoffed when Mickelson received a special exemption at the US Open next month. Who is laughing now?
Brooks Koepka, Mickelson’s playing partner on Sunday, severely faded en route to a 74. Mickelson’s margin of victory – as if details seemed to matter – was two, to six under par, by Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen, after a 73.
Koepka’s putting was not convincing throughout the tournament but declined further on day four. Oosthuizen will shudder recalling the unfortunate 13th hole of the Ocean Course. Twice in as many days, the South African found water there.
Mickelson’s previous top 20 result was last August in Memphis, with even that a glaring exception to a history of competitive woe. So it was understandable that spectators expected him to bow under the pressure of the youth. Instead, Mickelson’s cruelty forced his opponents into a series of mistakes.
A day of epic drama was featured in two holes. Mickelson, having started with a one-stroke lead, followed Koepka after a bogey against birdie on the 1st. Koepka encountered a horrible lie from the green to the 2nd, which triggered a double bogey. While Mickelson birdied, he was now led by two. In the 5th, Mickelson delivered the kind of short play witchcraft that characterizes his career. From a bunker at the edge of the greens, a magnificent shot found the bottom of the cup for a birdie two. Koepka was hiding up to expensive bogeys at 10 and 11, with the former giving Mickelson a four-stroke advantage. Oosthuizen had emerged as the main threat but Mickelson was in the territory of only being able to reject this championship. Oosthuizen found alligator-ridden waters with his approach to the 13th. No wonder he looked up to the sky.
Mickelson had five shots to play with, meaning his ball hanging out in the water due to a 13-second free didn’t have to be entirely fateful. Another bogey, in the 14th, where Mickelson missed the green, reduced the lead to three. Oosthuizen had hope; Koepka, who was now four years behind, about the same. Mickelson just had to make the holes; he parried on the 15th, birdied on the 16th, bogeyed the penultimate hole and managed to parry on the last. Koepka, to her credit, ended on a high.
When Padraig Harrington birdied in the 14th, he was three under par and had an outside chance to assault the leaders. The Ryder Cup captain in Europe was due to bogey on the 15th, interrupting his charge, but a tie for fourth further accentuated a middle finger for the old (er) men. Harrington turns 50 in August. There is no prospect, however, of playing homework when the United States sits in opposition at Whistling Straits later this year.
“I’m way beyond that,” Harrington said with a smile. “I’m too long in the tooth at this point. I am very dedicated to being the captain. I let others have their time. I had mine and you can’t do both. No one will ever be both captain and player of the Ryder Cup. “
Shane Lowry, who played with Harrington on Sunday, equaled his compatriot’s aggregate, as did Harry Higgs and Paul Casey. Lowry was understandably full of praise for his partner. “He didn’t lose it, did he?” Lowry said. “He’s still the ultra competitor. When he bombed a drive down 15, I was like, ‘Wow, if Paddy can do one or two when he comes in, he’s got a good chance here. God help these guys on the Senior Tour.
Mickelson once had a hard time devoting his professional time to the same, more placid area. Looking at what happened here only made this dilemma completely absurd. Phil is delighted, three weeks before his 51st birthday. This is his best hour.