• Longevity of Lefty

    Phil Mickelson
    The people still love Phil

    Phil Mickelson’s powers are well on the wane, but as 2018 unfolds, we can all dare to dream. Even if he doesn’t win another tournament, ‘Lefty’ hasn’t done too badly.

    It is beyond any dispute that Phil Mickelson has seen better days on the golf course.

    What can’t be argued is that he is the best 47-year-old in the sport and he ends 2017 deep inside the world’s top 50 for the 24th consecutive year.

    That’s a remarkable tale of longevity for the American, simply known as ‘Lefty’ and who has picked up 42 PGA Tour titles along with his five Majors. In 2017, Mickelson played his 100th Major championship, reaching the milestone at the same time as Ernie Els, and both are respected global ambassadors for the game.

    But Mickelson hasn’t won a tournament since 2013 – the year he won The Open Championship – and he has missed the cut in four of the last seven Majors. It also seems a long time ago that he and Henrik Stenson went head-to-head in that remarkable Open final round, even though it was only 2016.

    When you begin to measure Mickelson’s longevity and compare it to other sports, the American stands alone. Where else can someone rate in the top 50 globally for an unbroken period of 24 years? And while he will have plenty of work to do to stay there in 2018, just imagine if in 12 months’ time we see his name on the first page of those rankings again.

    Among those who have written off any chance of Mickelson contesting at the Majors again is Michael Collins, a former PGA Tour caddie and now an analyst for ESPN. ‘What has Phil Mickelson done the past two years that would have given you any glimpse of that kind of hope?’ he asked.

    ‘You’ve got to look at the scorecard, and when the scorecard is falling apart and the caddie and you split after 25 years, it’s a bit of a sign. It’s just hard for us, because we’re so spoiled. We lived through his great age, and it is hard to look at a guy like that and go, “Man, it might be over. This dude, he’s probably done winning.” Majors at least. It’s not like all these young guys who are out here now are saying, “Oh, Phil’s here, let’s not practise as hard.”’

    Although Dustin Johnson is an imposing world No 1, it’s the crop of twentysomethings behind him who are flooding golf’s leaderboards. It’s a young man’s game, their strength and elasticity off the tee helped by advances in equipment that are reducing many par fours to driver and a wedge.

    However, this great sport has stood the test of time and every now and then someone comes and bridges the age gap. Not just anyone, mind you. Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won the last of his 18 Majors at the 1986 Masters. Hale Irwin was 45 when he won the 1990 US Open and Lee Trevino a ripe 44 when he claimed the 1984 PGA Championship.

    Against that backdrop, even Mickelson is probably a no-go for a sixth Major title – and it must be remembered that he has finished runner-up at 11 Majors. ‘If’ is a big word, but if he had converted those seconds into wins, just imagine where he’d be on the all-time list.

    Mickelson’s powers are indeed wane, but as 2018 unravels, we can all hope for the best. Even if he doesn’t win another tournament, ‘Lefty’ hasn’t done too badly.

    A full 24 years inside the world’s top 50 – and still going strong. Not too bad at all.

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