As I watched Phil Mickelson give his post-tournament press conference, of all the words I heard him mention while answering reporters on his very special day, one word stood out more than most: fulfillment.
You see, the second most recognizable golfer of his generation had just done something nobody in the history of the sport had ever done. This weekend in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, Phil Mickelson became the oldest man to ever win a golf major. Phil is fifty years old.
In the absence of Tiger Woods, the golfer five years his junior with whom he’ll be forever linked, Mickelson continues to take a licking and keep on ticking. But even he questioned whether competing at the highest level was still an option.
Apparently, it is.
Whether they like it or not, Phil Mickelson will always be linked (pun intended) to Tiger Woods. He was the Frazier to Wood’s Ali, the everyone else to Tiger’s Michael. Tiger tallied eight majors before Phil had even won his first. That seems like a long time ago.
For those who remember, Phil was the guy who could never get over the hump, living in the giant shadow cast by his seemingly unbeatable competitor. That all changed in 2004 when Mickelson won his first Masters. He now has six, matching Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo. From the looks of Sunday’s final round, it’s hard to tell Phil ever played second fiddle to anyone else.
These days, while Tiger rehabs from injury and his body continues to break down, Mickelson remains more determined and headstrong than ever. That showed on Sunday when he raised the Wanamaker Trophy to throngs that chanted his name louder than the waves crashing on South Carolina’s coastline. Phil may not have Tiger’s cult of personality but you’d never know it watching him get mobbed by endearing fans as he approached the eighteenth green. Was this Beatles ’64 or Mickelson ‘21? It was hard to tell the difference.
Sunday, Phil was businesslike, focused and downright determined. This is a different Phil Mickelson than we’ve come to know over the years. This more mature and appreciative Phil appears to have found his happy place.
He thanked three people specifically as he exhaled Sunday evening: his wife, first and foremost, his brother, who caddied for him all weekend long, and his new golf coach, Andrew Getson, who helped him reinvent his swing.
Drowning out the noise of thousands calling your name while trying to swing a golf club is inconceivable to anyone who has ever done so without a soul watching. While finishing his round with victory in sight, Mickelson humbly, awkwardly and graciously gave thumbs up to the rambunctious crowd who looked like they had been just been let out of the house after fifteen months of quarantine. Many of them probably had.
Even Mickelson admitted he’d never been mobbed like that before. For a moment, we lost sight of him as he walked up the 18th fairway. Perhaps PGA Tour officials had forgotten how to do their job or perhaps they didn’t think a victory like this would have such an effect on those watching. They were mistaken, as was anybody who had a future against Phil winning again.
With Mickelson now accomplishing something Tiger can only dream of, the Woods-Mickelson rivalry has added a new chapter, Mickelson’s resolute determination and longevity once again one-upping his fiercest opponent. Both are the best golfers of their generation; both have set the tone for all those playing today. While Tiger may be idolized, as Mickelson walked up the 18th, it was hard to tell that Tiger had ever been any more beloved. Fans know what Phil brought to the game. They now know that, even at fifty, he’s a golfer that is not to be fucked with.
After the round, the reflective Mickelson said he understood this might be the last tournament he ever wins. That’s a bold realism for a man who had just shocked the world and whose tank is nowhere near empty.
I listened intently, hoping he would spill the beans about how he had found the fountain of youth, taking comfort in the fact that, at 53, people come to me and ask the same question. I just don’t have quite the same golf swing as this year’s PGA Champion.
Mickelson repeated he’d worked harder than he ever had. On Sunday, it showed. He is a man who appears to have his affairs in order and who, if for one solitary Sunday, can reflect upon what all his effort has given him and what he has given to the game.
At fifty, perhaps more than ever before, Phil is fulfilled. The rest of us should be so lucky.