Age is but a number, as some like to say. Phil Mickelson proved the validity of that adage when he won one for the ages.
Mickelson captured the PGA Championship on Sunday by two strokes over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen. In doing so, he became the oldest golfer to win a major title, at 50 years, 11 months and seven days.
The previous oldest major golf winner was Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA Championship at 48 years, four months and 18 days. Legendary golfers Old Tom Morris and Jack Nicklaus won their final majors at age 46 at the 1867 British Open and 1986 Masters, respectively.
Other great golfers won majors in their 40s, including Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino and Harry Vardon. We can’t forget Tiger Woods, who won the 2019 Masters at age 43 in stunning fashion to end an 11-year major drought.
Yet no golfer had won a major in their 50s.
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The closest was Tom Watson in 2009. The eight-time major winner was on the cusp of victory at the British Open, his favourite tournament, at age 59. All he needed was a par at the 72nd and final hole. His second shot went well over the green, and he had to fight tooth and nail to get a bogey and into an 18-hole playoff the following day. He would lose to Stewart Cink by six strokes.
Mickelson’s win was incredible, unexpected and historic. The massive crowd that engulfed him at the 18th hole of South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Golf Resort recognized this. Longtime golf writer Matt Ginella tweeted that it was part of what he described as the “Mount Rushmore of crowd favourites” at the final hole of a major, including Woods (2019 Masters), Bobby Jones (1930 British Amateur) and Arnold Palmer (1960 U.S. Open).
This was Mickelson’s second PGA Championship, sixth career major and 45th PGA Tour title. It was his first major championship since 2013, the first time he had finished in the Top 10 of any major since 2016 – and his first PGA title of any sort since 2018.
It also cemented his legacy, which had already been established many times over.
There were many congratulations sent out, including from 18-time major winner Nicklaus, four-time major winner Koepka, 2020 PGA champion Collin Morikawa and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. The most interesting one came from Woods. He tweeted to his old rival – and now, it’s fair to say, a friend in more recent times – on Sunday: “Truly inspirational to see @PhilMickelson do it again at 50 years of age. Congrats!!!!!!!” Mickelson quickly responded in kind to the 15-time major winner who was in a terrible car accident on Feb. 23: “Thank you. I’m pulling for your quick return.”
That’s the sort of mutual respect you like to see between great athletes in any sport.
What’s the main takeaway from this sensational moment in history?
We have to stop the temptation of writing off athletes due to age or recent performance.
It’s true that Mickelson hit a bad patch on the PGA Tour for several years. He had also started to make a partial shift in his schedule to the PGA Champions Tour. (He’s played two tournaments and won them both.)
It was easy to assume his best years in golf were long behind him. Too easy, in fact.
There’s clearly an enormous amount of gas left in the tank. Mickelson could become the first golfer to win a major on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour in the same season. He even has a chance to win the one major that’s eluded him, the U.S. Open, where he’s finished second a record six times.
Those would be incredible accomplishments, indeed.
“This is just an incredible feeling because I just believed that it was possible but yet everything was saying it wasn’t,” Mickelson said after winning the PGA Championship. “I hope that others find that inspiration. It might take a little extra work, a little bit harder effort to maintain physically or maintain the skills, but gosh, is it worth it in the end, and I’m so appreciative to be holding this Wanamaker Trophy.”
Mickelson’s brilliant performance, and his dogged determination to keep playing hard and stay competitive in the sport he loves, will likely inspire people of all ages for many years to come.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.
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