The oldest Major winner in history may be over 50, but he's got a lot left in the tank...
Phil Mickelson: The Man With A Golf IQ As High As Anyone
The Fountain of Youth is only a mythical spring, the legend of which first appeared in writings during the 5th century BC and became perhaps most prominent during the 16th century when Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon travelled to Florida in 1513.
Though don’t try telling any of this to Phil Mickelson, who seems to have recently discovered it at the bottom of a Yeti thermos filled with five shots of espresso extracted from Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans, almond milk, cinnamon, cacao nibs, collagen and medium-chain triglyceride oil.
This is the magic elixir he swears by (and sells, of course) and the results are hard to dispute. He has a thinner waistline than when he was in his 30s and he has as much juice as the Energizer Bunny.
“When I look back on some of the highlights of tournaments that I’ve won or played well in 15 years ago in my mid-30s, I mean, it’s embarrassing the way I looked,” he said pointedly.
“I wasn’t really accountable for my health. Now that I’ve taken a much greater level of accountability, I feel a lot better than I did 15 years ago.”
Maybe he’s on to something after all, though his longstanding work ethic shouldn’t be lost in the power of the magic beans.
25 months ago, Mickelson was cruising down Magnolia Lane at the 2019 Masters bragging about hitting bombs and boasting a supercharged 125-mph clubhead speed.
The video drew more than five million hits, proving this second act, however hokey, is just as popular as the first, and he’s still got some of the goods, too.
Recently, he responded to Bryson DeChambeau’s recent mind-boggling gains with some of his own – a 181mph ball speed and 337 yards of carry in his second career start on the 50-and-over PGA Tour Champions. He won.
And how did he do in the first? He closed with a five-under 66 to finish his three days at Ozarks National in Missouri at 22-under and three shots clear of his closest competitor for a wire-to-wire victory.
“I haven’t been called ‘young’ in a long time,” he said of the experience.
“Everybody out on [the PGA] Tour calls me the ‘old man’, which is totally cool.”
Not that he acts like one, now or ever.
Plenty left in the tank
Case in point: what do you get the man who seemingly has everything?
If that man is Mickelson, a 300-pound meteorite that crashed in Argentina and a dinosaur head excavated from Mongolia will more than suffice.
Those were the gifts from his wife, Amy, for Christmas in 2008 and the next year for his 39th birthday.
Mickelson’s own evolution, meanwhile, has proved equal parts entertaining and fascinating and as recent events have indicated – a plunge into the Twittersphere, the slimmed down beach bod and aforementioned victories on the apparently not-so-old-man circuit – his act isn’t going extinct anytime soon.
Always quick with a needle that’s as sharp as a razor, a self-described nerd, a husband and father, a lover of good food, wine and his own brand of wellness coffee, and with a golf IQ as high as anyone who has ever played the game, Mickelson seems ageless.
“I believe I can play at an extremely high level, I just need to show it,” Mickelson said in 2020.
“Physically, I’m swinging the club better, more on plane, striking it more solid, hitting the ball longer and swinging the club faster than I have in many, many years.
"But there’s a lot more to winning than just hitting bombs, and I’m trying to put all those pieces together and I’m enjoying the challenge.”
Of course, it wasn’t all that long ago that many wondered, Mickelson included, if he’d be up for it after a winless drought that spanned four-and-a-half years.
Then he beat Justin Thomas in a sudden-death playoff to win the WGC-Mexico Championship to end the spell in early 2018.
The victory was the 43rd of his career and an intrepid reporter asked Lefty if he could somehow get to 50 wins – a preposterous total given, well, reality. Or at least everyone else’s view of it.
“Oh, I will get there,” Mickelson said, cutting off the scribe mid-sentence.
Of course. Mickelson’s nickname during his early days on tour –FIGJAM – was derived from a healthy dose of hubris and a smug conviction that rubbed his fellow pros the wrong way.
And while he has (mostly) shed the moniker and replaced it with this humorous brand of middle-aged dad high jinks, underneath it all there is still a belief there is much left to accomplish.
Whatever happens, there will be fun along the way, because as his wife Amy puts it, Phil enjoys the fun of it all.
Why not, because what a ride it has been.
In three decades on the PGA Tour, Mickelson has amassed one of the greatest resumes in the game’s history – 45 career victories, including six Major Championships and his first win while he was still an amateur, as well as a record six silver medals for the impressive (but also somewhat dubious) honour of half a dozen runner-up finishes at the US Open.
A member of every US Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team between 1994 and 2018, he also spent a remarkable and record 28 years ranked in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking, which dates back to 1986.
His legacy in the game was cemented so long ago that he was enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame back in 2012.
To put all of that in further perspective, although Mickelson has never reached World No.1, he did spend 270 weeks at No.2 – all of them behind the greatest player ever, Tiger Woods.
The 35 PGA Tour titles he won during Tiger’s era would rank him with the 14th most victories all time as it is.
With 45, he is T8th all-time behind only Billy Casper, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and finally Woods and Sam Snead, each of whom has 82.
Then there is the style with which Mickelson plays.
It’s emblematic of the way he lives, which is to say that he lives fully if not with bravado.
Though his short game is drool-worthy and has been drawing oohs and ahhs for the entirety of his career, his long but powerful and rhythmic swing is perhaps also underappreciated but not without due attention.
Few, after all, will ever forget his second shot off the pine straw on the par-5 13th at Augusta National on his way to winning the 2010 Masters for a third Green Jacket. It was perhaps the signature shot in a lifetime full of them.
It’s also that same languid swing and his remarkable athleticism that serve as the main reason why he has largely avoided significant injury for the bulk of his career and his longevity has persisted.
That and the fact that he simply loves the game, in all its machinations.
To wit, Mickelson can turn on the charm with the best of them, is known to be a good tipper and for the most part has spent a significant amount of his time signing autographs throughout his career, bad day on the course often aside.
But it can come with a devilish caveat, too, like the time he rented out a restaurant the night of a big boxing match during the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte and welcomed the media to join the festivities.
Being the gracious host, he picked up the tab, but not before luring more than a few in with a bet on one of the night’s undercards that, as it turned out, he had done some due diligence on.
A complex character
Yet assessing Mickelson’s career is a lot like the man himself: it’s complicated.
For all of his successes, the failures have often been epic, from a propensity to hit it all over the course off the tee and make big numbers to the fact that many of his achievements still fall noticeably short of those above him on the all-time wins list.
For the bulk of his career he never played well in the wind and was so often an afterthought at the Open Championship, and his spectacular short game covered up other blemishes.
The flip side of that would be that in essence two swings at Winged Foot in 2006 cost him what would have been the Career Grand Slam, and surely he would be viewed with even greater reverence had he become just the sixth man to achieve such a feat.
Of course, no legacy that lasts this long is without its bumps and bruises and Mickelson has endured his share, most of which have been self-induced.
Lefty has been embroiled in his share of controversies, ranging from the amusing to the more serious.
In a 2003 magazine interview, Mickelson infamously asserted that Woods was being held back by using “inferior” equipment, a comment that infuriated Nike.
The following year, just before the Ryder Cup, Mickelson made more equipment waves, switching his driver, fairway woods and golf ball from Titleist to Callaway ahead of the matches at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan, where his pairing with Woods for two matches proved disastrous for the Americans both in performance and in psyche.
Other Ryder Cup blow-ups included a blistering and public verbal undressing of US captain Tom Watson in 2014 and another of 2004 captain Hal Sutton years after his stint as the leader of the Americans.
Then there was the time in 2016 when he reprimanded a then-17-year-old Ryan Ruffels, who’d taken a sizable sum off him in a money game.
But all of that was pocket change compared with other far more serious and potentially damaging controversies.
Also in 2016, the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) announced insider trading charges against professional sports gambler Billy Walters, who allegedly made $40million from illegal stock tips.
Within the complaint, the SEC also said that Mickelson had made trades at Walters’ urging and used his nearly $1million in profit to help repay his gambling debts to Walters.
Mickelson eventually settled a civil case by paying back his profits, plus interest, and in doing so neither party admitted nor denied the allegations in the SEC’s complaint.
Two years later, the great escape artist again found himself at the centre of another controversy.
This time it was on the golf course, after he ran after a putt and hit it while it was still moving on his way to making a ten on a hole during the third round of the US Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he’d lost it over the condition of the greens.
That one cost him two strokes, though many thought he should have been disqualified.
Instead, Teflon Phil kept playing. He eventually apologised and all was seemingly forgiven.
More to come
Still, the highlights far outweigh the low moments in a career that has been mostly blessed.
For that he is revered, by the fans and his peers. Mickelson is generous, has proven a valuable mentor to the next generation in Ryder Cup team rooms and beyond and his own appetite remains as insatiable as ever.
“I love what I do,” Mickelson said.
“I love my job. I love trying to play and compete, and I really enjoy playing with guys like Rory [McIlroy] and Bryson [DeChambeau] who are just tremendous talents.
“Rory has got one of the most beautiful golf swings this game has ever seen. Bryson has got a unique style of playing that is fascinating, and he plays at the highest level. I enjoy kind of watching and learning, but I also enjoy trying to play my game and compete regardless of age.”
In Phil’s search for the Fountain of Youth, age is, after all, just a number.
Brian is a freelance writer and has fantastic golf equipment knowledge.
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