Phil Mickelson wins PGA Championship at euphoric KiawahA month shy of 51, becomes oldest player ever to win a major
May 23, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Phil Mickelson holes out for birdie on No. 5 at PGA Championship
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – A year ago, at the 102nd PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, Phil Mickelson didn’t contend but made his way to the CBS broadcast booth, where he traded zingers with Nick Faldo and Jim Nantz. He got off a few good lines. Everyone had fun.
In between then and now, Mickelson won twice on PGA TOUR Champions; lost weight; sold some Coffee for Wellness; partnered with Tom Brady in The Match 2: Champions for Charity, when the world was desperate for live sports amid the paralyzing opening months of the pandemic.
Always, he entertained, even if his golf game had cooled. Now, though, he has made history.
Mickelson, 50, held his nerve, kept his focus, and counter-punched a brutally difficult Ocean Course to a draw Sunday, shooting a final-round 73 to win the PGA Championship. He becomes the oldest men’s major winner, besting Julius Boros, who was 48 at the 1968 PGA.
“It's very possible that this is the last tournament I ever win,” he said. “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. But the point is that there's no reason why I or anybody else can't do it at a later age. It just takes a little bit more work.”
Louis Oosthuizen (73) and Brooks Koepka (74) finished second, two back at 4 under par.
It was Mickelson’s second PGA title (2005); sixth major (and first since the 2013 Open); and 45th PGA TOUR victory (first since the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am).
“Certainly, one of the moments I'll cherish my entire life,” he said. “I don't know how to describe the feeling of excitement and fulfillment and accomplishment to do something when – you know, of this magnitude – when very few people thought that I could.”
The biggest question by the 18th hole was whether Mickelson could part the sea of fans who closed in around him after his approach stopped 16 feet from the pin, all but ending it. Being enveloped was a first for him, he said, calling it “unnerving” and “exceptionally awesome.”
He two-putted for par and hugged his caddie/brother Tim as Kiawah erupted.Phil Mickelson was full of praise for the job his brother Tim had done on the bag at Kiawah. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
“You guys probably wouldn't be able to see it because we haven't been able to put it together for more than one round,” Tim Mickelson said, “but we all knew it was there, and he actually had told me three weeks ago, I think it was right after Charlotte, he said, ‘I am going to win again soon.’ I just said, ‘Well, let's just make sure we're in contention on a Sunday.’
“I was trying to downplay the situation,” he continued, “but he said he was going to win again soon, and sure enough, obviously it worked.”
Mickelson becomes the eighth player to win on the PGA TOUR after turning 50, and the first since Davis Love III at the 2015 Wyndham Championship. He also becomes the 14th player to win six majors or more, moving even with Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino.
“I mean, I hope I'm still playing at 50,” said Koepka, who was playing on a surgically repaired knee that he said was aggravated by the chaos on 18. “But to be able to come out and compete and actually win, that's a whole another thing, so kudos to him. It was really cool to see.”
Koepka took the lead after a two-shot swing at the first hole, but Mickelson took it back with a birdie at the par-5 second, which Koepka double-bogeyed.
Despite making three front-nine bogeys, Mickelson kept bouncing back with birdies, none bigger than his hole-out from the sand at the par-3 fifth hole as the pro-Phil crowd went wild.
He birdied the par-5 seventh, and the par-4 10th hole. More bogeys followed on 13 and 14, but he hit a 366-yard drive and made another birdie at the downwind, par-5 16th hole.
By then he had a three-shot lead, and it was all about avoiding the big mistake coming home.
At 115th in the world, 168th in the FedExCup, he came into this week as a massive longshot. He impressed in practice rounds, but Monday-through-Wednesday golf doesn’t always mean much.
“His enthusiasm is what keeps him going,” said Jon Rahm (68, 1 under), a friend who played for Tim Mickelson at Arizona State. “At his age, has the same enthusiasm I have at 26, and he's been doing this a very long time. I mean, he's been on TOUR as long as I've been alive.”
Added Tim Mickelson, “He just loves golf. He loves golf. I mean, when he's at home, he's still playing almost every single day, sometimes 36. He's grinding. It never stops for him.”
Padraig Harrington (69, 2 under), who believes older players do better under pressure, when their minds can’t drift, played with Mickelson the first two rounds and had a sense he might not fade.
“I'd say Phil is full to capacity, but that's where he likes to live,” said Harrington, 49.
Jack Nicklaus was 58 when he contended deep into Sunday at the 1998 Masters. Tom Watson was 59 when he nearly won the 2009 Open Championship. Fred Couples was 52 when he led after round two of the 2012 Masters. None of them won, but it showed what was possible.
With just two victories in the last seven years – and no top-20 finishes in 14 starts coming into this PGA Championship – Mickelson admitted his mental game wasn’t what it was. He tried dietary changes, meditation, and marathon sessions of 36 to 45 holes a day.
Now, though, it’s clicking again. He walked off the 18th green and into the embrace of his longtime manager and former ASU coach Steve Loy, and then a procession of hugs from Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Oosthuizen and others. “He thinks he’s 25 years old again,” Loy said.
What’s next for Phil? He got an exemption to play in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines next month but now will get in on merit as he tries to capture the one major that has eluded him and win the career Grand Slam. In the meantime, he'll tee it up at Colonial for the Charles Schwab Challenge then take two weeks off before another shot at history.