Phil Mickelson Proves That Age is Just a Number in Golf
MUCH has been made of Phil Mickelson’s incredible achievement in winning the PGA Championship on the eve of his 51st birthday. Quite right too.
The American became the oldest ever winner of a major, seeing off the challenge of a host of much younger challengers. Coming as it did just a week after 48-year-old Richard Bland won his first European Tour event at his 478th attempt, it confirmed that golf is not necessarily a young man’s game. And who finished fourth at Kiawah Island? None other than European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, who is 49.
Of course we have seen the likes of Collin Morikawa and a teenage Rasmus Hojgaard winning tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic. Sam Burns, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Cameron Champ, Matthew Wolff, Sam Horsfield are all in their twenties.
But Lee Westwood won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai last season and had two runners-up finishes on the PGA Tour at the age of 47. Stewart Cink has returned to the winner’s circle this season, picking up two titles. He is 48. Paul Casey won the Dubai Desert Classic earlier in the year. He is almost 44.
Of course it could be argued that golfers enjoy a longer competitive career now because they take greater care of themselves. But you could never seriously argue that Miguel Angel Jimenez takes his fitness seriously. The Spaniard won 21 times on the European Tour - 14 of those victories came after he turned 40. And he is the oldest man to win on the European Tour, capturing the Open de Espana at the age of 50. Even now, aged, 57, he remains competitive.
For Vijay Singh, life began when he turned 40. The Fijian enjoyed 34 PGA Tour victories - incredibly, 23 of those came after he turned 40, including the PGA Championship in 2004.
Jack Nicklaus won The Masters in 1986 when he was 46 years old - and remains the oldest winner at Augusta. The oldest winner of The Open was Tom Morris, who was 46 when he triumphed way back in 1867. And Hale Irwin was 45 when he took the US Open in 1990. Tiger Woods achieved his incredible comeback victory at The Masters in 2019 at the age of 43. Tom Watson came within a whisker of winning The Open when he was 59 years old.
The oldest winner of the PGA Tour was Sam Snead, who emerged triumphant at the Greater Greensboro Open less than two months shy of his 53rd birthday in 1965. Davis Love was 51 when he won the Wyndham Championship.
And if we are talking about longevity, Bernhard Langer must be included in the conversation. Where to start with the German? He has 117 international victories to his credit, including three on the PGA Tour, 42 on the European Tour and 41 on the Champions Tour. Seven of his European Tour successes came after he hit 40. Langer is now 63. He won once on the Champions Tour last year in what was a heavily-curtailed season because of the pandemic. And he currently leads the Charles Schwab Cup standings.
After he turned 50 in 2020, Mickelson tried his hand on the Champions Tour and promptly won his first two starts.
What all these golfers had and have in common is that they have all retained flexibility, they possess golf swings that have not changed one iota over the years and, with the exception of Mickelson, were and are incredibly accurate from the tee. Mickelson is one of the worst drivers in PGA Tour history - yes, he hits the ball miles, but finding fairways is entirely alien to him. However, at Kiawah Island he probably surprised even himself with the number of times he found the short and prepared from the tee. And he still possess a magical short game and incredible powers of recovery.
Mickelson's success at the PGA Championship proves that age really is just a number. He may be the first 50-year-old to win a major. He probably won’t be the last.
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