There could well be more high-profile victories to come from a player who never believed his time on golf’s frontline was over
It may seem typical after a shock sporting outcome for the champion to insist he or she always had belief they could defy the odds. In the case of Phil Mickelson, the level of continued dedication to his profession makes earlier confidence entirely believable.
At the age of 50 years, 11 months and seven days, Mickelson became the oldest champion in major history amid moving scenes at the US PGA Championship. What came after was not so much an explanation of how Mickelson reached the finest achievement of his career but insistence of how he never believed his time on golf’s frontline was over.
“He never doubted himself,” explained Tim Mickelson, the champion’s brother and caddie. “His will and desire to win now is as high as it’s ever been, in my opinion. Certainly it’s probably higher than when I started caddying for him.
“He loves golf. I mean, when he’s at home, he’s still playing almost every single day, sometimes 36 holes. He’s grinding. It never stops for him.
“You guys probably wouldn’t be able to see it because we haven’t been able to put it together for more than one round but we all knew it was there. He actually had told me three weeks ago, he said, ‘I am going to win again soon.’ I just said, ‘Well, let’s just make sure we’re in contention on a Sunday.’ I was trying to downplay the situation but he said he was going to win again soon, and sure enough, obviously it worked.”
The six-time major winner’s longtime manager, Steve Loy, echoed Tim Mickelson’s sentiments. “I don’t want to say this is the final finale, it ain’t,” Loy said. “He thinks he’s 25 years old again. I think he’s going to win five more times, maybe 10. You can’t tell him no. Every time I try to tell him, ‘Look, we are running out of time,’ he’s going, ‘I don’t want to hear it.’”
Mickelson can now realistically contemplate a 13th appearance in the Ryder Cup. Not only does the left-hander have major championship credentials once more, there are parallels between Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course – where Mickelson saw off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen by two shots – and Whistling Straits, where the US will host Europe in September.
Golf as a whole, meanwhile, has been afforded another marketeer’s dream. In advance of the US PGA, administrators spoke of the boom various sectors of the sport enjoyed when coronavirus hit. As an outdoor, socially distant, family friendly pursuit, golf profited while other sports were shunted into cold storage. Now, the heroics of an individual just weeks shy of his 51st birthday endorse potential playing longevity – including at the top level – not available elsewhere.
“It’s very possible that this is the last tournament I ever win,” Mickelson admitted. “Like if I’m being realistic. But it’s also very possible that I may have had a little bit of a breakthrough in some of my focus and maybe I go on a little bit of a run, I don’t know. But the point is that there’s no reason why I or anybody else can’t do it at a later age. It just takes a little bit more work.”
The sole negative element attached to Mickelson’s triumph related to the crowds that swamped the 18th fairway as he and Koepka were completing their final round. Koepka was clearly unhappy with the scene and the 31-year-old later explained that his right knee – which was operated on earlier this year – was bashed umpteen times in the melee. “No one really gave a shit,” said Koepka. Caught in his own moment, Mickelson was unaware of what was happening to Koepka.
Owing to a spell in the doldrums, Mickelson was unsure whether to accept a special invitation to play in next month’s US Open. That major title is the only one to escape him thus far. That this year’s venue is Torrey Pines, where Mickelson played so much as a youth, only adds to the sudden level of excitement created by what transpired at Kiawah.
“I do believe that if I stay sharp mentally I can play well at Torrey Pines,” Mickelson said. “I’ll take two weeks off before that and go out to Torrey and spend time, spend time on the greens and really try to be sharp for that week because I know that I’m playing well. This could very well be my last really good opportunity, although I get five more, but really good opportunity to win a US Open. So I’m going to put everything I have into it.”
Jack Nicklaus, whose 1986 Masters glory aged 46 seemed remarkable at the time, led the congratulations for Mickelson. “You can just see in his eyes that he wants to win,” said Collin Morikawa, the 2020 US PGA champion. Given events in South Carolina, it would be folly to discount something equally stunning happening again. Mickelson’s is no ordinary life story.
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