The best part of following major golf tournaments is their unpredictability. You truly never know who will put together a hot week and surge all the way to a victory of a lifetime. A couple days ago, no one would have predicted 50-year-old Phil Mickelson to have a realistic shot at raising the Wanamaker Trophy in our home state of South Carolina. But after a brilliant performance on one of the toughest courses in the world and the grandest of stages, Lefty has done the impossible.
We always knew that Phil had the competitive mentality to compete with anyone on the PGA Tour, but he found the fountain of youth here at Kiawah Island to propel himself to an improbable major championship. After sharing a lead with Louis Oosthuizen at 5-under par through 36 holes, Mickelson went through an up-and-down Saturday afternoon. His iron play was fantastic early, making a brilliant shot from a waste bunker to set up a birdie on the third before a pair of spectacular putts finished off a front-nine 32. But things took a turn with a bogey on 12 and a wayward drive into the water on the unlucky 13th to set up a double.
The mental part of the game is everything in major championships, and a veteran like Mickelson thrived on rebounding quickly, making pars the rest of the way to hold onto the slim advantage. But he knew it would be far from easy to finish this one off, especially with playing partner Brooks Koepka looming just a shot back. He’s won his share of major titles in the past few years, including a pair of Wanamaker Trophies in 2018 and 2019. If Phil could pull this off, it would be right up there with Tiger Woods’ miraculous win two years ago at Augusta and would be in the conversation of one of the greatest feats in the history of the sport.
Golf is a game of adjustments, and the winner of this tournament would be the one who takes what the course gives him and takes into account the unrelenting wind racing across the Atlantic. Despite a pair of bogeys on the first three holes Sunday, Phil found a way. He knew he had to excel on the pair of par 5s on the front nine and carded two crucial birdies with perfectly executed iron and approach shots.
A little bit of magic can always help, and Lefty found it on the par-3 fifth. With his ball nestled in a waste bunker, the veteran conjured a dazzling escape, lifting the ball onto the green as it hopped straight into the hole. Then he weathered the storm on one of the most menacing back nines in all of golf.
As he prepared to compete at Kiawah, Mickelson practiced a series of meditation exercises in order to stay locked in against a loaded field of young golfers and an unforgiving Pete Dye track. But Lefty rose to the challenge and ran the gauntlet. Even when he found water on 13 for the second straight day, he didn’t let a single shot disrupt his winning approach and rhythm. The adversity came towards him from all angles — from inconsistencies on the tee box to a cracked 2-iron — but it didn’t stop the legend from vanquishing the competition — and Father Time.
Phil dropped a few shots as he turned towards the home stretch, but so did Oosthuizen and Koepka. The par-3 17th has a way to play with every golfer who crosses its path at the Ocean Course.
Despite a late setback on the diabolical penultimate hole, Phil just had to put together a clean run on the last to complete the date with destiny. Despite a wayward drive to the rough, he made the rest look effortless, nailing the next shot right on the green as he paraded down to a hero’s welcome. Two putts later, he was crowned victor in a story that nobody saw coming.
He’s now the oldest major champion ever, besting 48-year-old Julius Boros all the way back in 1968. And when you look at the talent in today’s game, especially in the younger generation, it without question cements Phil’s legacy as an all-time great in the sport.
Just a month ago, we saw a determined veteran in Stewart Cink return to his dominance at the RBC Heritage to rewrite his legacy. On Sunday, we saw another beloved figure believe again, and complete a run that will live in golf lore forever.
By Wes Kerr