IN the early days of ASG some 13 years ago we began referring to the man who has just become golf’s oldest ever major winner as ‘Crazy Phil Mickelson’.
It wasn’t that we doubted Phil’s mental stability; it was more a nodding respect to his renown as a golfing “thrill-seeker”. If there was ever an on-course choice between a safe, bland golfing shot and an audacious, daring and exciting stroke, Phil was always more than likely to go for the more entertaining option. The thrill-seeking shots might not always come off, but it was never going to stop him trying. It’s why golf fans love to see him play.
It’s a tribute to Phil’s “adventurous” golfing style that nobody ever actually asked why we were calling him ‘Crazy Phil Mickelson’. The answer is a given – and it was also sort of fun to do.
But in this past week, just shy of his 51st birthday, Mickelson has shown how much more he is than just a golf risk taker and a showman.
Asked how a 50 year old could win his sixth major on one of golf’s toughest courses against a top quality field containing players half his age – and five years since he had last even contended in a major – the Californian had a simple answer:
“I work harder,” he said
He has worked not just on his golf swing but on his body through exercise and diet and importantly on his mind and focus. Tales came out about him regularly playing 36 or 45 practice holes in a day so when he had to focus for just 18 holes in a day it would seem a breeze.
There was talk of his 6 day coffee fasts – that would be impressive enough if it meant he went six days without coffee, but it’s actually the opposite; he fasts for six days drinking a special healthy coffee brew he concocts, and apart from water, nothing else. He says it lets his body “reset”. As does his regular meditation.
Ultimately, Phil’s love of golf pushes him on a never ending, and age-defying quest for improvement. All the focus and skill was there for all to see at the 2021 US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in South Carolina… fighting back and refocusing after losing his overnight lead on the very first hole on Sunday to playing partner Brooks Koepka, using all his hard won flexibility and swing improvements to smash a drive 366 yards and bettering his younger, big hitting opponent; chipping in from a greenside sandy area to put a stamp on his renowned short game. And as always with Phil, there’s the constant ‘aw-shucks’ hat tipping to his adoring fans and the repeated thumbs-up gesture to confirm how everyone is part of the show.
“My desire to play is the same,” Phil said on Sunday night after breaking a major age record that had stood for 53 years. (Julius Boros was 48 years, 4 months, 18 days when he beat Arnold Palmer and New Zealander Bob Charles by one stroke on July 21, 1968).
“I’ve never been driven by exterior things. I’ve always been intrinsically motivated because I love to compete, I love playing the game. I love having opportunities to play against the best at the highest level. That’s what drives me, and I think that that’s what is—the belief that I could still do it inspired me to work harder.”
As regular off week playing partner Brendan Steele commented: “What people don’t fully appreciate about Phil is how much he loves golf, He gets so much joy from playing the game and he’s on a never-ending quest to get better. He never stops. The passion is always there. Yes, he has great hands and all of that, but I think his love for the game is the biggest reason why he’s been one of the best players in the world for 30 straight years.”
Mickelson’s 2 stroke victory amid wild scenes on the 18th hole Sunday was his 44th career victory and his six major – putting him level on the major winners list with Nick Faldo, Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen and Harry Vardon.
“This is just an incredible feeling because I believed it was possible yet everything was saying it wasn’t,” he said. “I hope that others find that inspiration. It might take a little extra work, a little harder effort, but it’s so worth it in the end.”
So, apparently, not so crazy after all.