Phil Mickelson, 50, wins PGA Championship
KIAWAH ISLAND, SC – Enduring a thrilling roller coaster ride for five hours, Phil Mickelson, who turns 51 next month, won the PGA Championship on Sunday to become the oldest golfer to win a major championship. The record was previously held by Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the PGA Championship in 1968.
Mickelson shot six under par for the tournament, finishing two shots ahead of the finalists, Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen.
Mickelson becomes the latest in a growing group of sports stars who have challenged the traditional retirement age of athletes and proven that championships can still be won in careers that last into their fifties. Mickelson followed the lead of Tom Brady, who won his seventh Super Bowl title three months ago at age 43. Serena Williams remained in constant pursuit of elite titles at age 39, an age that has historically seen tennis players retreat on a senior circuit. Tiger Woods, although seriously injured in a car crash in February, won his fifth Masters tournament two years ago at age 43.
“I hope this inspires some to do that little extra work, as there’s no reason you can’t achieve your goals at a later age,” Mickelson said after his turn. “It just takes a little more work.”
Mickelson has been one of America’s most popular golfers for three decades, and the final scene of his Sunday triumph showed his appeal had not abated.
On the final hole, Mickelson threw his tee shot into the gallery to the left of the fairway, but he lifted a 9 iron from the rough within 16 feet of the hole as the crowd roared in approval. He walked over to the green, shaking his left fist over his shoulder. As he did so, he was enveloped by hundreds of fans, who walked past security guards and police to celebrate alongside him.
Hugged, shoved and patted on the back, Mickelson needed several minutes to cover the last 50 yards to the 18th green. With spectators chanting his first name, he finally emerged into a green surrounded by crowds. Two putts sealed his victory.
Mickelson then called the experience “slightly disturbing but exceptionally great” and said he “would cherish it for the rest of my life”.
Mickelson’s feat, his sixth major title, could prove to be a bookend to three decades in the golf spotlight. Four times American university, he won his first professional tournament as an amateur and could not cash his big check. After turning pro, he racked up victories on the PGA Tour, but quickly became more notorious for his failure to win his first major championship.
Mickelson also had the misfortune of playing most of his career in the shadow of superstar Woods, who won six major championships before the age of 26. But Mickelson didn’t break through until the age of 33, when he won the 2004 Masters in his 13th. year on tour. Two more Masters Championships followed, in 2006 and 2010, along with a win at the 2005 PGA Championship, but there were also frequent and disheartening setbacks, including six second-place finishes at the US Open, the Championship American national golf course. Prior to Sunday’s win at the treacherous Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Mickelson hadn’t won a major since the 2013 British Open.
Mickelson, however, has remained a fan favorite, in part because of his daring playing style and because of his Everyman physique, which stands in stark contrast to the fit and muscular bodies of the modern golfer best exemplified by Woods. Known as Lefty because he swings over a golf ball with his left hand – even though he’s naturally right-handed – Mickelson has spent decades comfortably engaging in golf galleries, often using a a smile and a thumbs up, a gesture he learned from Arnold Palmer. .
Mickelson’s rise to this PGA Championship standings has not been heralded by his recent performances. Since missing the cup at last year’s US Open, his best PGA Tour result had been a tie for 21st. He has finished outside the top 50 nine times.
Playing in dark sunglasses and looking calm, Mickelson started Sunday’s round with a one-stroke lead over Koepka, who finished the event tied for second with Oosthuizen four under par.
But long before Mickelson’s triumphant outcome was certain, he was locked in a tense, upside-down battle, first with Koepka, then in the final holes with Oosthuizen.
While Mickelson appeared to have a comfortable four-stroke lead on the field with six holes to go, his second shot at the 13th hole caught on a water hazard, which led to a disturbing bogey. At the 14th par 3 hole, Mickelson arrived just off the green. He fell to eight feet, but missed the normal putt for another bogey.
Almost simultaneously, Oosthuizen had two stabilized pars on the 14th and 15th holes to shoot within three shots of Mickelson, who was six under par for the tournament. Mickelson parsed on the 15th hole, but Oosthuizen birdied a par 5 on the 16th hole – his eagle putt narrowly missed – to reduce Mickelson’s lead to two strokes.
Mickelson responded with a par on the 15th hole, then hit a massive 337 yard drive down the middle of the 16th fairway. His second shot bounced off the green but jumped his back. A risky chip tucked next to the hole for an easy birdie, and Mickelson headed for the toughest hole on the longest golf course in Major Championship history with a three-stroke lead.
Mickelson’s 6 iron from the 17th tee took a big bounce just to the left of the hole and slid into the grass at knee height behind the green 60 feet from the flag. After several minutes of deliberation, he wedged his ball safely onto the putting surface, where he made two putts for a bogey who kept him two more strokes in the lead.
Hours earlier, in the middle of a sunny, wet day along the South Carolina coast, Mickelson had taken a punch to his chances when Koepka snatched him the lead on the first hole. Within minutes, a three-putt Mickelson bogey and a Koepka bird had toppled the names atop the standings. But Koepka gave the lead with a double bogey on the second hole, even as Mickelson continued to struggle with his precision.
His brother and caddy, Tim, dismissed Phil Mickelson after the sixth hole and gave him a slight scolding.
“Tim said, ‘If you want to win this thing you’re going to have to do some engaged golf swings,'” said Mickelson, adding that he had been too passive. “It hit me in the head – I have to swing engaged. The first one I did was drive on 7. “
Mickelson watched the seventh hole, which Koepka bugged. At the turn, Mickelson had advanced two strokes.
When Mickelson’s final putt fell into the cup on the 18th green, the brothers kissed for several seconds.