‘It hit me in the last two days what just happened’Phil Mickelson still digesting PGA Championship win at Charles Schwab Challenge
May 26, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Phil Mickelson on sharpening his skills against younger players at Charles Schwab
Phil Mickelson’s stunning victory at the 103rd PGA Championship on Sunday left him little time to think of anything besides beating back chasers Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen.
Now that he’s had time to fly home to San Diego, though, and then on to Fort Worth, Texas, for this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, it’s beginning to sink in.
“Really it hit me in the last two days what just happened,” Mickelson, 50, said Wednesday from Colonial Country Club, where he is a two-time past champion (2000, ’08).
The last 72 hours have been a whirlwind. After his media obligations he flew home to San Diego see wife Amy, and the two stayed up until 6 a.m. ET Monday morning, savoring the victory.
Now he’s in Texas for the Schwab, a commitment he said he never considered not honoring.
“I'm excited to play here because I've been playing well,” said Mickelson, part of a threesome with Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger. “I want to try to carry that momentum into a tournament that I've enjoyed many times and fortunate to win a couple of times on a great golf course.”
Phil Mickelson wins sixth major title at the PGA Championship
Momentum is a new thing for Mickelson. Before shooting a 1-over 73 to prevail by two over Koepka and Oosthuizen – besting Julius Boros (48, ’68 PGA) as the oldest player to win a major – he didn’t have a top-20 finish in 14 PGA TOUR starts this season.
Sure, there were positive signs – something to convince him he would win soon, as he told his brother/caddie Tim. He won twice in his first two starts on PGA TOUR Champions and shot an opening-round 64 to lead the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month.
Alas, he didn’t break 75 the rest of the way and ultimately finished 69th. Going into the PGA, he had slipped to 168th in the FedExCup and 115th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
How did he get unstuck? There were many factors, only some of which he spoke of at Kiawah. There, he credited meditation and 36-to-45-hole practice sessions to “elongate” his attention span. He eliminated sugar and processed foods and began fasting for 36 hours a week to lower inflammation. (He was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune condition, in 2010.)
Speaking from Fort Worth, he also credited the revival of 48-year-old Stewart Cink, a two-time winner this season, as an inspiration. Close enough in age to be one of Lefty’s contemporaries, FedExCup No. 6 Cink was the comeback story of the year – until Sunday.
“I think that every player goes through challenges,” Mickelson said. “We saw it on the LPGA with Lydia Ko after struggling for a little while, dominating and struggling a little bit, for her to come back and play as well as she has, like that's an inspiration.
“Stewart Cink was a huge one, too,” he continued. “… I had a chance to play with him at Charlotte and he's striking it so good, hitting the ball long and straight and having a lot of fun there with (son and caddie) Reagan at his side. Very inspiring person right there.”
Just as important have been his matches against younger players. Just prior to the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook four weeks ago, Mickelson said, he played with Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler at The Grove in South Florida. And over the last year and a half he’s regularly put his game up against fellow San Diegans Charley Hoffman and Xander Schauffele.
All are tough opponents who have kept him sharp, even as they have sometimes humbled him.
“I remember a year ago almost to the day where I was playing a few rounds at the Farms with Xander,” Mickelson said, “and we played a match and he went out and shot 64 and I'm like, wow, all right … you gave me a pretty good beating and … let's do this again.”
They played again, and Schauffele shot 63.
“I'm like, wow, OK,” Mickelson said. “Let me try one more time. So we go out next time and he shoots 62. On a 220-yard par 3, I had to press and hit one four feet, and he makes a hole-in-one. I went back and talked to Amy and I'm like, ‘I don't know how I'm going to beat this guy.’”
The postscript: Schauffele finished T3 at the 2020 Charles Schwab a week later. If he had somehow forgotten, Mickelson had now seen what it took to play the game at the highest level, so when he started shooting the same scores at the same course last month, he felt he was close.
Then he went to the Valspar Championship and missed the cut.
“That's why I was so frustrated,” he said, “is that I wasn't bringing my best out when I knew I could, and I had a glimpse there obviously at Charlotte in one round but wasn't able to sustain it.
“Then to hold it together and play some really good golf over 72 holes last week meant a lot,” he continued, “because I had seen the progress, but I had not seen the results, and so that's why I say, I had a belief but until you actually do it, it's tough to really fully believe it.”
After the Schwab, Mickelson will take two weeks off before heading to the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines South in his hometown of San Diego. He has struggled with the South since Rees Jones redid it in 2001, but the U.S. Open is the one he needs to complete the career Grand Slam.
He might never win again, he said Sunday, but with his A game having resurfaced and his self-belief back to full, Mickelson might just elongate this moment and keep making history.