How on earth does a man of 50 win a major championship? How does he look better now than he did at 40 and outdrive the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka to strike the longest tee shot seen all week on the par-five 16th on the Ocean Course?
After Phil Mickelson’s historic thrashing of Old Father Time at the 103rd US PGA Championship on Sunday came the epic story of sacrifice behind it.
The ex-junk food addict who now fasts for 36 hours once a week to keep away the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
The man who built a driving range at his home in San Diego at the age of 45 so he can maintain his length off the tee. The daily yoga sessions to retain his enviable flexibility. Playing 45 holes of golf at home some days to retrain the brain and keep it sharp. The meditation to quieten the mind.
Phil Mickelson shocked the sporting world by becoming golf’s oldest ever major winner
‘Even if no-one else did, I always kept the belief that I could still play at the highest level at an advanced age but that I’d need to work hard at it,’ said Mickelson.
‘It is hard, as well. When you like to eat like I do, it’s hard to fast for 36 hours. But I feel better for doing it, there’s no inflammation to worry about any more. And then you get days like this one and, gosh, does that make it all feel worth it.’
There’s the background team as well. His brother Tim, once a college golf coach and then an agent who gave it up to caddie for Mickelson — and took him to one side on the 7th tee on Sunday and gave him the rollicking that made all the difference.
The quiet Australian who coaches him and preaches a three-word swing creed to the much-decorated Lefty. ‘Make it timeless,’ Andrew Getson urges his star pupil, again and again, referring to that languid motion. Make it timeless.
The 50-year-old American has many secrets, ranging from strict fasting to daily yoga sessions
Mickelson held off the rest of the field and outdid some of the game’s biggest hitters to win
Wow, Mickelson did that all right. On an unforgettable day in the Low Country, he came up with a final round that will be recalled for all time, leaving some of his fellow professionals in a state of awe.
‘Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t have said this was Phil’s type of course at the start of the week and his results haven’t been that great,’ said Jon Rahm, who used to be coached and then managed by Tim Mickelson. ‘What a performance. Winning a major at 50 — that’s just incredible.’
Rahm was there by the 18th green to add his congratulations, alongside Paul Casey and Rickie Fowler, as Mickelson took in the joyous scenes. Fowler likened it to Tiger Woods’ comeback win in Atlanta in 2018, as the pied piper led his followers down the 18th fairway.
‘I’ve never experienced anything like this and it’s clearly a moment I’ll cherish for my entire life,’ said Mickelson. ‘To do something when few people thought you could? It’s a feeling of excitement, fulfilment, accomplishment, you name it.’
The first six holes on Sunday were classic Mickelson. He was all over the place.
His peerless short game saved him on the fifth where he holed a bunker shot, but that was the only highlight. The first three holes were all downwind but he played them tentatively in one over par. Tim Mickelson had seen enough.
Revealed Phil: ‘He told me in no uncertain terms that I hadn’t hit a single committed shot so far and that there was no way that I could win being so passive. It was what I needed to hear at the time. My drive at the seventh was a committed swing and the most important shot I hit all day.’
Five shots clear with six holes to play, Mickelson took a long look at the leaderboard for the first time.
‘It was all about quietening the mind by that stage,’ said Tim Mickelson.
Mickelson held off Brooks Koepka (left) – 19 years his junior – to win his sixth career golf major
27 – The age swing between last year’s PGA winner (Collin Morikawa, 23) and this year’s (Mickelson, 50) is the largest since the 1867-68 Opens — Tom Morris (46) won and then his son, Tom Jnr (17).
Added Phil: ‘Keeping my focus was the theme of the week. I knew I was playing well coming into the event but losing focus and wasting silly shots. At the rental home, I stayed away from social media and anything that would take me out of the present.
‘Over the last few holes, it was about continuing to see a clear picture but it’s still not easy. You still have doubts, of course you do.’
Those doubts surfaced, as bogeys at the 13th and 14th ratcheted up the pressure but then came his two most impressive blows of the day. Two astounding drives at the 15th and 16th that bounded past those of playing partner Koepka and relieved the tension.
At the 18th it was bedlam, as the crowd surged out of control.
Koepka would churlishly complain of someone ‘dinging’ his dodgy knee but chaos was understandable as everyone wanted to witness history.
Amid the riot, Mickelson remained calm. ‘Quieten the mind’ remained the mantra as he struck a nine iron to the middle of the 18th green to seal the deal.
By the end of an unforgettable day, thanks to the time difference and his private plane, Mickelson was back in California and slept in his own bed. This week he will fly to Texas to play and then it will be a fortnight of preparation for the United States Open at Torrey Pines, just a 20-minute drive from his home in San Diego.
Mickelson left it to others to get excited about what’s at stake at the next major. He will be 51 by the time he tees up in the first round for an event where he’s finished as bridesmaid on no fewer than six occasions. He needs to win the tournament to claim the career Grand Slam.
Mickelson showed a nice line in perspective on that one. ‘At my age, I have to accept this victory might be the very last of my career or I might have had a little breakthrough in terms of focus, I just don’t know,’ he said. ‘What I do know is that this US Open might be my last real opportunity to win that event. I’ll play Torrey a few times. I’ll do the prep. I’ll put everything into it.’
For now, Torrey can wait. Let’s savour one of the great majors of all time, one that will cause people to reassess where Mickelson now stands in the pantheon. With six majors, he’s now alongside Sir Nick Faldo on the all-time list.
‘I’d place this win alongside what Jack Nicklaus did in winning the Masters aged 46 in 1986 and Tiger winning the Masters two years ago,’ said Sir Nick, who revealed Mickelson came to him for advice on maintaining focus down the stretch. ‘He asked me about focus and how I did it but I think he’s come up with his own formula.’
Golf was supposed to be a game for young men these days. Now here’s Phil, winning a major some 30 years after he first won on tour as an amateur. Playing his way into America’s Ryder Cup team.
‘There’s absolutely no reason, if you’re prepared to look after yourself and put in the effort, that this can’t be a game for a lifetime,’ said the man who’d just delivered the victory of a lifetime.