BOB WEST ON GOLF — Mickelson thumbed his nose at Father Time’s aura

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Old-timer Phil Mickelson was such an afterthought in the PGA Championship that betting odds on him were established as high as 300/1. Amazingly, some fool plopped down $1,000 on him to win.

Mickelson, three weeks shy of turning 51, and the fool who bet on him, wound up with the last laugh. Phil the Thrill, astonishingly, became the oldest player to win a major championship. The idiot bettor cashed in a ticket worth $300,000.

More and more, it seems, there is wisdom in never saying never. Or doubting a certified champion’s chance of winning because of his age. Not if he’s still talented, has taken care of his body, is driven to win and believes in himself.

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For proof, look no farther than LeBron James, who led the Lakers to an NBA title at 36. Or Tom Brady who helped the New England Patriots hoist the Super Bowl trophy at age 43. Or Mickelson, who just lived golf’s seemingly impossible dream on a beast of a Pete Dye golf course.

As Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich once proclaimed, “Never underestimate the heart of a champion.”

Mickelson showed heart, guts, guile, resolve and envious shot-making skills for a guy who hadn’t won a major in nearly eight years. In the process, he took down the likes of Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and all of golf’s other young guns. It was, indeed, a performance for the ages, and a Godsend for golf and CBS TV ratings.

The game’s obvious parallels for a feel-good story were Jack Nicklaus’ victory at age 46 in the 1986 Masters and Tiger Woods’ out-of-nowhere triumph in the 2019 Masters. Debates are already raging on which of the three deserves top billing when it comes to a miracle in a major.

Mickelson and Woods, of course, are pretty much joined at the hip because of career overlap and being the game’s most high-profile players for a long stretch. One can only speculate how star-spangled Mickelson’s career would have been if Tiger had not played in the same era.

Among other things, Mickelson now has 45 career victories, tying him for eighth all time with Walter Hagen. He is now also tied for 11th with six majors – 3 Masters, 2 PGAs and 1 British Open. And he is one of only four players – Sam Snead, Ray Floyd and Davis Love III are the others – to win a PGA tournament in four different decades.

The first one, you might recall, came as a 20-year-old amateur.

Meanwhile, the grinding, draining victory on Kiawah Island’s demanding Ocean Course nudged open a door long thought to be closed for Mickelson. The U.S. Open title, which would put him in the elite fraternity of those who own a career grand slam, has eluded his grasp for years.

Often, he’s come up short in painful and frustrating ways.

So, could the unthinkable happen in his hometown of San Diego three weeks hence? Could Phil go back-to-back in majors on the same Torrey Pines course where Tiger won the 2008 Open on a broken leg?

Mickelson, all of a sudden, is rightfully being given a puncher’s chance. Remember, we no longer never say never. For karma, he’ll celebrate his 51st birthday the day before the opening round.

No matter what happens at Torrey Pines, Lefty cemented his legacy with this most improbable triumph in South Carolina. Every day you expected him to fade, to start spraying drives into penalty areas. This, after all, was the same fading star who led after a first-day 64 at Quail Hollow two weeks ago, then shot 75-75-76 to finish 69th.

The prospect of him going head-to-head with the menacing Koepka was daunting for anyone pulling for a guy old enough to be a grandpa. That he didn’t fade away is testimony to Mickelson trimming down, overcoming psoriatic arthritis and, against all conventional wisdom, gaining club head speed and adding distance after age 50.

Koepka had to be absolutely stunned when his 362-yard bomb on the par 5, 16th Sunday was four yards behind a man 20 years his senior.

Mickelson’s victory not only thrust him into the U.S. Open conversation, it also started a dialogue of being considered for the Ryder Cup this fall at Whistling Straits. He wasn’t even on the radar for that, but a solid showing in the U.S. Open would likely launch a groundswell.

One other fire Mickelson may have lit was under Woods. With his golfing future in doubt from injuries suffered in an auto accident, seeing what Phil did may well ignite a burning desire in Woods for another comeback.

You have to think Phil would love the thought of battling Tiger down the stretch one more time with something big on the line.

CHIP SHOTS: Over 12 inches of rain at Babe Zaharias in an eight-day period wiped out all the daily competitions for last week, but there was a significant local highlight. Former Lamar star Dawie van der Walt provided it with a second-place finish in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Advent Health Championship in Kansas City.

Van der Walt, a three-time All-SLC player at LU, and the conference Player of the Year in 2007, birdied five of his final six holes for a closing 68 and a 72-hole total of 17-under 271. He finished two shots back of winner Cameron Young.

It was Van der Walt’s fourth top 10 of the 2020-21 season.

Wild weather helped deny LCM’s Jack Burke back-to-back 4A state titles. In a tournament limited to 27 holes by rain and wet conditions, Burke placed T4 in his final schoolboy tourney with a total of 108 (71-37). Wimberly’s Jaxon Donaldson won with a 101 (65-36).

The PGA Tour will be in Fort Worth this week for the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club. It’s the event where the tour resumed last year after a three-month COVID shutdown. Andrew Landry, who has missed five of his last six cuts, is in the field.

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