Golf has been staging major championships since 1860, yet just 33 times has someone won consecutive majors. One of those came courtesy of Phil Mickelson, who followed a 2005 PGA Championship triumph with a victory at the 2006 Masters.
The rarity of the feat alone should keep Phil from being a favorite to duplicate Sunday’s PGA Championship triumph next month when the U.S. Open tees off at Torrey Pines. (BetMGM has him at +5,000. Twenty-one golfers have better odds to win).
Stringing together back-to-back near perfect performances while enjoying the requisite golfing good fortune (and whatever bad fortune hits everyone else) is nearly impossible, even for the greatest of all time while they were in their prime. Then again, this is Phil, a man who has never done anything according to convention. Until Sunday, when he cruised to his sixth major championship by two strokes, no 50-year-old had ever won a major.
So who knows, right?
“It’s very possible that this is the last tournament I ever win,” Mickelson said from Kiawah Island, South Carolina. “Like, if I’m being realistic. But it’s also very possible that I may have had a little bit of a breakthrough in some of my focus and maybe I go on a little bit of a run, I don’t know.
“The point is that there’s no reason why I or anybody else can’t do it at a later age,” he continued. “It just takes a little bit more work.”
Mickelson has been putting in the work. He said he sacrificed “food” to win another major — his commitment to diet and fitness has reenergized his body. He’s plenty strong enough, especially when the adrenaline is pumping.
This wasn’t some crafty old guy winning through guile and a short game. He averaged 316.3 yards off the tee at the PGA, just above the 313.1 average for the field.
On the back-nine Sunday, when he should have been his most fatigued, he hammered a 337-yard drive on 15 that rolled past playing partner Brooks Koepka, who is nearly two decades his junior. Then on 16, he wailed one 366 yards, the longest by anyone all week.
“Those were really good swings,” Mickelson said.
If anything, his problem Sunday was hitting it too far and finding himself set up behind the greens. Mickelson cited his commitment to fitness, the coaching of Andrew Getson and the hot club faces of today’s clubs for helping him. Couple that with his famed chipping and putting and here you go.
“There’s no reason why the game of golf can’t be the game for a lifetime,” Mickelson said. “And if you take care of your body and do it the right way, and now with the exercise physiology and technology that’s out there like with TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) and everything, that you can work out the right way to get your body to function right and play golf for a lifetime.”
But can you win another major, let alone the one major (the U.S. Open) which might mean more to Phil than any other?
The U.S. Open is at Torrey Pines, in his hometown of San Diego, which he’s always proudly repped. And while he thought he might be good enough to win the PGA — and the 2021 Masters before it — some of what he’s been up to has been focused on building toward this.
He’s won three times at Torrey during regular Tour stops, but it’s been awhile — 1993, 2000 and 2001. He finished T53, some 15 shots off the lead, at the Farmers Insurance Open played there in January.
He’s a different player now, though. He cites his ability to “elongate his focus” of late to being able to stand up to the mental drain of championship-caliber golf. Especially in majors, the need to focus on every shot for four days is paramount. One mistake can doom you.
Mickelson regularly played 36 and sometimes 45 holes a day in the run up to the PGA Championship so 18 wouldn’t seem so daunting. Phil was extremely purposeful at the PGA, making slow, well-thought out strategic decisions and even walking with a relaxed pace.
“Just the ability to kind of quiet my mind and get rid of all the exterior noise,” Mickelson said.
What transpired at Kiawah Island should be viewed as a glorious, late-career curtain call that no one saw coming and should never be assumed possible. Mickelson has always been somewhat of a streak shooter, though. When he is on his game, he’s really on it.
His previous five majors were followed by four extremely strong performances, including that 2005-06 PGA/Masters double dip. He also, following major victories, finished 2nd at the 2004 U.S. Open, T2 at the 2006 U.S. Open and T4 at the 2010 Masters. He followed his 2013 British victory with a T73 at the PGA.
So now comes the U.S. Open — the only major he’s never won — and Mickelson promising to prepare even harder for this than the PGA. He understands the stakes — Torrey isn’t slated to host another major until 2027 at the earliest. And he understands Father Time always wins in the end.
It’s just how long can you fend him off?
“I do believe that if I stay sharp mentally I can play well at Torrey Pines,” Mickelson said. “I’ll take two weeks off before that and go out to Torrey and spend time, spend time on the greens and really try to be sharp for that week because I know that I’m playing well and this could very well be my last really good opportunity … to win a U.S. Open.
“So I’m going to put everything I have into it.”
If so, well, if you thought the fans rooting for Phil in South Carolina were wild, wait until he’s playing a home game.
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