Phil Mickelson’s incredible career has always been about fighting against two seemingly impossible forces: Tiger Woods and time. As he lifted his putter in celebration on the 18th green to win the 2021 PGA Championship, it wasn’t just another major victory, but also a symbol that he’d beaten time itself as the oldest player to ever win a major.
If golf was a team sport, Mickelson would be its Scottie Pippen. Incredible in his own right, but always defined by being the second biggest attraction during an era of a phenom. Unfairly, and constantly compared to Woods in skill, it rarely seemed to rattle Mickelson, who would keep working, keep grinding, and continuing to win. At an age anyone would be forgiven for slowing down, the 50-year-old is playing some of his best golf in a decade, and central to that is an unwavering focus to be the best player he can be.
One of the great paradoxes of the sport is that young players, with all the physical tools in the world, often don’t have the experience or feel for the game to be great immediately. When you have acquired those skills over thousands of rounds, the body begins to break down. It wasn’t so long ago that Mickelson felt this first hand, feeling like he was losing control and breaking down. Then, at a crossroads in 2019, he made the decision to recommit for one last run. Changing his diet, his game, all in hopes of capturing glory on one last run — and it’s working.
Along with this came a more open, more relaxed Mickelson. Sure, on the course he was as focused and dedicated as he’d ever been, but with it came a newfound social media presence. He started a Twitter account in 2018, but really came to embrace it during his reinvention, having fun on the platform, even showing a willingness to poke fun at himself.
With his win on Sunday, his first major since 2013, Mickelson moved to 12th in all-time major wins, sharing the spot with Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino. One more major win would put him on par with Arnold Palmer, two and he’d be 4th in the all-time ranking with Ben Watson. While he’ll likely never catch the likes of Woods or Nicklaus who have won 18 and 15 majors respectively, Mickelson seems largely at peace with that.
Right now he’s focused, locked in, and having a blast playing the game. It’s been the turnaround Mickelson fans have been dying to see for the better part of a decade, and Sunday was the cathartic moment that proven his return. On the back nine Sunday he was so locked in his family were sharing that he had shut everyone out, except for his brother (and caddy) Tim.
There’s nobody left to define Mickelson except himself. Woods remains out due to a devastating car wreck earlier this year. Now Phil has proven the work he put in is paying dividends. It might be ridiculous to say “the best is yet to come” from any athlete who’s 50, but golf is a remarkable sport where anything can be possible, provided you’re willing to put the work in to change your game — and Phil has done it. Now he waits for the U.S. Open in just two weeks, where he’ll look to make history again.