Mickelson, Middle Age & the March for More Majors

    Mickelson, Middle Age & the March for More Majors

    Phil Mickelson came out of Arizona State a “can’t miss” kid. He won his first PGA tournament, the 1991 Northern Telecom Open, as an amateur, during the latter stages of his collegiate career. He remains the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event. He was only the second player in history to be a four-time, first team All-American. He tied Ben Crenshaw with three individual NCAA championships. He became the first left-handed golfer to win the U.S. Amateur.

    He was winning tournaments, racking up a dozen wins in his first six years on tour and getting close to victory at major championships – somehow though he’d find a way to not win on golf’s biggest stages and he lugged around the ignoble title, “best player not to have won a major” for an uncomfortably long time.

    Tiger Woods arrived on the scene about four years after Mickelson turned pro. Woods promptly won his first major, the 1997 Masters, eight months after becoming a professional. Mickelson, like every other top golfer of his generation and the next, found himself toiling in the long shadow Woods projected across the entire sport. The wins for Mickelson continued, but the near misses at major championships continued to stack up. He finished second at the U.S. Open in 1999 and 2003. He finished in 3rd place at the Masters three consecutive years, 2001-2003. He finished runner up at the PGA Championship in 2001.

    Finally, as he was fast approaching his 34th birthday, Mickelson broke through at the 2004 Masters. With the monkey off his back, Mickelson has gone on to add four more majors to his resume. Another interesting fact is Phil Mickelson has won 2 majors since Tiger Woods captured his last (14th) major championship at the 2008 U.S. Open – the 2010 Masters and the 2013 Open Championship.

    Mickelson has enjoyed a hot start to the 2016 golf season with a 2nd place, tie for 3rd and 11th place in his first three starts. These numbers contrast starkly with Phil’s 2015 campaign and signal that another major championship could be in the offering this year, certainly a run at Augusta National, where Mickelson has won three Masters’ titles, is not out of the question.
    Mickelson’s top finish in all of 2015 was at Augusta where he tied for 2nd place. Consider this fact — In the past 15 Masters’ tournaments, Mickelson has 11 top-ten finishes, including 9 top-five finishes. By comparison, Woods has 10 top-tens during the same time span, including 9 top-fives.

    As Mickelson approaches his 46th birthday this June, it’s fair to ask how many more major championships he can add to his trophy case. All of us remember Jack Nicklaus’ historic 1986 Masters win at age 46. It’s fair to say that Nicklaus seemed “older” than how we perceive age 46 today. The record however, tells a different story. Nicklaus posted 10 top tens in majors between the ages of 40 – 45. Mickelson has posted 7 top-10’s during the same time frame, with another major to go at this year’s Masters. Nicklaus also won three majors after turning 40, compared to a single win so far for Mickelson.

    Mickelson, however, seems younger and more fit than Nicklaus did at the same age. Phil’s swing has remained long, he still bombs the ball off the tee and his short game, never Nicklaus’ strength, remains one of the best in golf. Mickelson will never approach Nicklaus’ level of domination in the game, after all he’s won less than a third of Nicklaus’ 18 major championships. The argument we are advancing here is Mickelson seems equally or better primed than Nicklaus as he enters the second half of his 40’s.

    The proof, of course, is in the pudding and the next five years will be interesting to watch as Mickelson chases more major championships on his way to the age of 50.