Is it possible that Phil Mickelson, at 48, is threatening to bump Tom Brady as the coolest coot around? Might he become the alpha ancient now, the new model for how to do old?
In looking at the body types of those two, I certainly know which one I can most aspire to.
All hail broke loose this week at the AT&T Classic. First, an actual hail storm iced the greens on the California shore and delayed the tournament finish to Monday. And then Mickelson wins the thing for the fifth time and it’s “All Hail Lefty,” when less than eight months ago we were burying him after he started playing field hockey on the 13th green at Shinnecock.
At a time of his career when he should be dreaming of cart golf and members’ tees, Mickelson won for the 44th time on the PGA Tour Monday. And he put himself right back in the Career Grand Slam conversation. His embarrassing Saturday episode at last year’s U.S. Open, when he chased down a still-rolling putt and bunted it back up the hill in a fit of pique, might not have been his last memorable gesture to the one major he hasn’t won. Maybe there still is time for him to walk off No. 18 at this Open proclaiming himself No. 1 with some finger other than his middle one.
Because guess where this year’s U.S. Open is? Yes, Pebble Beach, site of his Monday victory and a place where he is so comfortable he may play June’s tournament in bare feet. Mickelson turns 49 on the Sunday of the upcoming U.S. Open. Can the Fates align any more?
Oh, and I hear they’re thinking about playing the Masters again at Augusta National this year, another place where Mickelson’s had some success. The last of his three titles came back in 2010. But here he is, perhaps the more likely candidate to win a major championship again than his made-for-fraud-TV playing partner, Tiger Woods. There’s a barstool argument that should get you through at least happy hour.
Winning any major, let alone the one that has so cruelly eluded Mickelson, is an audacious thought given that he already is older than the oldest-ever major champion (Julius Boros, 1968 PGA).
But what Mickelson has been showing lately is audacious. He arrived at the Monterey Peninsula with the flexible swing of a double-jointed freshman. Somewhere, at a time when the rest of us began the slow march toward fossilization, Mickelson discovered a couple more miles an hour of swing speed. He entered the week fifth on the PGA Tour in driving distance, still bombing it past those who are at least a decade away from cutting their own arthritis commercials. And he seemed even longer when paired at the end with the diminutive Paul Casey (196th in driving distance).
And, even at 48, Mickelson apparently has the night vision of a barn owl, as he lobbied to continue playing Sunday night even as it was obviously getting too dark for golf. Yes, he’s going to be like the grandfather who is always challenging you to arm wrestle. Only his test will be an eye chart at 20 paces.
And Mickelson is obviously just as willful and stubborn as he’s ever been, a necessary quality as he continues to win full-field events – winning by three strokes in the latest case. That should be almost – almost, mind you – as notable as anything Woods did at East Lake last year.
Whether winning on saturated Pebble Beach this last week – where the boggy ground captured his more errant shots and kept them in play – prepares him to win again there in June is a big reach. As Mickelson said last week, comparing the AT&T to what will meet him at the Open, “A separate event and separate conditions, separate shots, different shots that you're hitting.”
It has been 28 years since Mickelson won a PGA Tour event for the first time. The arc of such a career is rainbow wide and remarkable. It is a lesson in how to beat the calendar that even a Patriots quarterback can admire.