Cut it out I say. The man’s had plenty of bad luck in his golfing career, and he’s borne it almost as stoically as that original also-ran—Greg Norman. And now that Phil Mickelson—golf’s poster boy for unfulfilled ambition—is finally all grown up, hitting it down the middle, and enjoying his game with not as much as a toe-dip in the ocean of self-pity that fans have often heaped on him, we have to go and call him ‘old’. Worse, the ‘oldest ever,’ to win a Major that is. But, bucking considerable trend and abundant snickering, this column isn’t headlined, ‘Rolling back the years,’ or something on those lines.
I’ve never felt bad for Phil, until the winner’s press conference at the PGA Championship that is: Golf Channel analysts Justin Leonard and Brandel Chamblee, wanted to know, among other things, ‘how he felt…’ not after winning the PGA Championship, but about being the ‘oldest winner.’ It almost felt like Phil was being congratulated for winning the lottery, not a Major golf championship. What a windfall! You won a Major at 50!
You can’t blame them though can you? Both Brandel and Justin aren’t from some other generation of golfers, these guys were Phil’s contemporaries: they played the tour together, they’ve known each other for most of their golfing lives. And while Justin and Brandel have long left the pitch for the safe televised cocoon that the on-air golf analyst lives in, Phil’s still out there, not paying attention to the jokes, getting his teeth knocked out by Tiger every now and then, struggling with this game, but refusing to buy a yacht and sail to the Bahamas.
I’ve never been a fan of the hinge and hold, that works only for Phil, and that’s because he is a genius with the wedge, and a welcome throwback to the unrestrained old-fashioned swing. Just ask Chamblee who’s a big fan of that action. But Phil’s easy-to-ignore qualities go beyond his game. He doesn’t throw clubs, or mouth profanities on air, and, given the number of times he’s come up short, he’s mostly been quite gracious in defeat. Above all, he’s not Patrick Reed.
So how does he feel? Neither Brandel, or Justin, among all other well-meaning, secretly envious, contemporaries of the man, nor fans like you and me, have any idea. The man just won the PGA Championship—how am I supposed to imagine what that feels like. Pretty darn top-of-the-world I would think. A more valid question is, where the heck did that come from? What’s gotten into the man, and more specifically, how in the world is he finding so many fairways? He’s got the same swing, plays the same no-prisoners brand of golf he’s always done, and he hasn’t done well in a while.
Is it possible, that age does have something to do with it? You see, 50, is a number on the PGA Tour. It’s when you qualify for the Senior Tour, and when you can, if you choose to, or have to, bid goodbye to the ultra-competitive PGA Tour and head for the farm. It’s another matter altogether that the Senior Tour is hardly the convivial, bunch of ex-top pros hanging out, trading stories, quaffing copious quantities of barley water together kind of gravy train. But that’s another story for another time.
I reckon it’s a bit like Anthony Bourdain writing a tell-all, profanity-ridden, hanging-out-the-dirty laundry kind of book because he thought only his fry cook would read it. If you don’t care any more about pleasing people, or what they might think, then it’s liberating. Just go out there, smash it and have some fun. I can’t remember seeing Phil having so much fun on the course for the last few years. It helps, I suppose, that a certain big cat has his leg in a cast, although Phil would be spooked if Tiger teed it up with his leg in a cast.
I imagine Phil came out and teed it up at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course with a certain lightness of being, a, thinking not so much about battling a foe like Tiger, but admiring Miguel Ángel Jiménez’s languid tenacity.
Such a stark contrast to the man with the wry grin who used to walk around burdened by expectations that had gone from promise of success to the sadistic certainty of imminent failure. You only have to glance at the odds on punters’ websites during the Majors to understand, truly, the unshakeable faith that bookies have in Phil’s uncanny ability not to win, and just how much money they’re willing to stake on that. They must have lost a fortune this time around, and deservedly so. I bet a number of them are going, “ oh well, law of probability, he had to win sometime, it’s a fluke.’ Phil himself allowed that defeatist line to get to him at the press conference, admitting that perhaps this would be last big win, but stressing on the hard work he’d been putting in. There was a time when, spurred by the whole athlete power-game revolution on the PGA Tour, Phil took to lifting weights and appearing at events clad in rather unflattering tees that had even liberal arbiters of acceptable golfing attire, cringing in their seats. Those, thankfully are gone. This is a new Phil; a lean (er) machine who not only won the PGA Championship, but did it without needing to take his glares off. You totally rocked it man. Now go and show those boys how it’s done at Torrey Pines next week.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game