May 26, 2021
Mickelson's astonishing win!
Phil Mickelson's win of the PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island to claim his sixth major championship defies logic. This season has been his worst statistically with no finishes in the top 20 along with six missed cuts out of 14 events entered. His world ranking dropped to 115th and his play showed wild swings in shots and scores. Odds makers listed him as a 300 to 1 to win the title, which was the same odds as Victor Perez, a non-winner on the PGA Tour, who had missed the cut three of five times that he played in a major with no high finishes. Nothing leading up to this unprecedented victory could have predicted this outcome. However, that's why they play the game and statistics are thrown out the window and the heart of a champion is measured.
The Ocean Course is a brutal golf course that tests all aspects of a professional's golf game, especially their mental resolve and temperament. Phil got off to an inauspicious start being three over for the first six holes, but he then turned it around and finished with a very respectable two under par 70. Friday started uneventful after a two over par first nine holes, but then the old great Phil caught fire. It was Phil at his best for nine holes where he played near flawlessly during a five under 31. Now Phil was in the lead after 36 holes. Surely he can't keep this up! The last time he had the lead; he backed up and finished at the bottom of the pack.
Great players know how to win. Even if their games are not what they used to be like in their earlier years, they know what it takes. I have never seen Phil more stoic and resolved in his attention to put his best effort into every shot the last two days. Greatness again was on display the first ten holes on Saturday. After that stretch, Phil had built a five shot lead. Maybe he let down a little because he hit a couple of errant shots that caused a bogie and double bogie, but at the end of the day he still had a one shot lead.
The last day had him paired with Brooks Koepka, a relentless bull dog, who is fearless and unafraid of winning. The bookies liked Koepka and most feared that "Phil the Thrill" would again make some stupid mistake and his swing would not hold up under the pressure. Not happening, this was a vintage Hall of Fame player doing what was needed to win a major championship. Smart plays, strategic decisions, pressure shots when needed and Phil defied all the odds and now has joined Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo in 12th place on the major champions list.
Much has been made of the fact that Phil Mickelson is the oldest player to win a major. Phil is probably in better shape, both physically and mentally then he was ten years ago. His driving average this week was statistically among the leaders in that category. Physically he has giving up nothing to the younger players. I think it is very possible for a player nearing 60 to win a major in the future. Athletes are training better, are in better health, and competing longer. I see no reasons that if they keep their enthusiasm and competitiveness that they can't keep winning regular PGA tournaments and a major through their fifties.
Tom Watson should have won the 2009 British Open at Turnberry. A beautifully struck 8 iron that landed on the front of the 18th green somehow managed to go over that green that led to a bogie and eventually a play-off loss to Stuart Cink. At the time, Watson was two months short of his 60th birthday. That would've been one of the greatest stories in golf history, but it was not to be. Phil Mickelson did write the storybook ending at Kiawah and did it in style. Maybe he has broken an invisible barrier and older guys nearing or past their fifties will be encouraged and see it's still possible and they will win again.
I'm not sure where Mickelson's win will rank on all-time wins. I think Tiger's last win at the Masters was more dramatic. You could see his progression and it culminated in a crowd pleasing win. Jack Nicklaus's win at the Masters at age 46 was surprising, because Jack was in semi-retirement. He was competing part-time and not as serious a competitor as a few years before. But given the opportunity, he still knew what to do and he did it. Phil knew what to do and he seized the moment. This was memorable for his great play, but also for its unpredictability. Golf is great, because you don't know what is going to happen. "Phil the Thrill" surprised us again!