History will say that on May 23, 2021, a 50-year-old man won one of the Majors of world golf. We could put any adjective to this Phil Mickelson triumph and they would all make sense: unthinkable, incredible, historic, colossal. Each one will find the one they like the most. The truth is that it is the most shocking history of the sport in 2021. If it were not an Olympic year, I would dare to say that there will be no other like it. A story that can only be overcome if the southpaw wins the US Open.
Mickelson made his first tournament on the PGA Tour when he was an amateur, alumnus of the University of Arizona. It happened just over 30 years ago, when the world began to discover that there was a southpaw who painted for a phenomenon. A year later, he finished his studies, turned professional and began a career that led to him winning 45 tournaments, 6 majors and a deserved place in the Hall of Fame. In 2013 he won the Open in Scotland and for a long time it seemed that this was going to be his last victory.
His game had begun to decline and with different diets he began to strengthen his body. He changed coaches a couple of times, dumped his lifelong caddy, and his brother Tim took his place in his bag. He dedicated himself to trying to lengthen the punch to compete with the younger ones, but none of that seemed to work until victory returned in Mexico, at the beginning of 2018. He added another at Pebble Beach in 2019, but that seemed the end. He began not to pass the cuts and when he played the weekend he ended up very late. Until in June 2020 he turned 50.
Arms up, Phil Mickelson celebrates the 18th hole with the crowd: few players generate that magnetism with the public. Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
What happened in the post-pandemic was more of the same, so much so that he decided to start trying his luck on the over 50 circuit, where he quickly won. The start of 2021 was not much different and in the 14 tournaments he had played before arriving in Kiawah he was ranked 21st as his best performance and had missed the cut 6 times. But I told them that this is an unintelligible game and one more sample was seen. No one in their right mind would have bet a dollar on Mickelson, who at the beginning of the week was paying 500 to 1 in Las Vegas.
He arrived on Sunday with an advantage and the logical nerves that you have when an athlete faces a great moment in his career. The beginning of the final round for the last group was the strangest I’ve ever seen. No one seemed to control the nerves and the tip was constantly changing. Mickelson did magic on the 2 from behind the green and did it again on the 5 when he holed out from the sand, but immediately lost the lead on the 6.
Mickelson on the 15th hole during the PGA Championship final. Photo: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports
From then on, Mickelson didn’t make any more mistakes until the end of the 12th, while rivals Koepka and Oosthuizen performed a symphony of mistakes. With 6 holes to play, everything was in the hands of the southpaw, but closing a championship I assure you that it is not easy at all. He hit the water at 13 and missed a short putt at 14. It was the first signs of Mickelson’s nerves. The championship took another color.
It was from the 15th that the winner showed all his hierarchy. He drew his magic wand to hit a great third shot at 16, birdie and three ahead with two to play. It was only necessary to pass the 17th and hope that Oosthuizen, playing in the front group, did not achieve a birdie in the last one. He hit a big iron on that par 3 and was unlucky enough that the ball went downhill to end up in an impossible place. He left with the bogey that left him with two strokes of light with respect to Koepka, who was playing with him. Ahead the birdie did not appear, Mickelson reached the green with his second shot and when Koepka did not make his putt, the PGA Championship was already left-handed.
The finale with the crowd invading the 18th fairway speaks volumes of what Phil Mickelson does to people. He is one of the great idols of golf in the United States and wrote an unthinkable story, becoming at age 50 the oldest winner in a Major, on the longest course in the history of the great championships.
May 23 will be remembered as the historic date that Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship at the age of 50. Photo: AFP
It is true that there will be lockers in your career that may never be filled. It was never number one in the world. He was never player of the year on the PGA Tour. He never won the Fedex Cup. He never came first on the list of money earned, which was how success was measured until 2007 on the Tour. And he could never lift the US Open cup (he came out 6 times second). This may change now, because victory will give him the chance to play that tournament until 2025. And I think no one will dare to bet against the southpaw when in four weeks the championship is played in San Diego, Mickelson’s hometown.
In a few years, the cold history books will tell that a 50-year-old man won the PGA Championship, but for those who did not experience it, it will be impossible to have a dimension of what happened this week on Kiawah Island. In a few weeks we will meet again when another field on the sea, this time will be on the Pacific, receives the best in the world for the US Open. Until then there will be no other theme than the unforgettable triumph of Phil Mickelson.