Last month’s PGA Championship closed with surreal shots of Tour legend Phil Mickelson being mobbed by the crowd at the 18th hole, as he put the finishing touches on a two-stroke victory of Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen.
At 50 years of age, Mickelson broke the 53-year record for oldest major champion, set by 48-year-old Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship.
Despite Mickelson’s five major titles among 44 career PGA Tour wins, the championship was nowhere in the realm of expected. Phil had recently fallen out of the top 100 of the OWGR for the first time since 1993, and had come into the PGA Championship, held at South Carolina’s Kiawah Island, in mostly awful form with nothing better than a T21 in his previous 17 starts.
He had even played in three Champions Tour events, winning two of them, and it seemed as though Phil was going to ride off into the sunset, possibly never contending in a Tour event again.
That was the belief from pundits.
Mickelson, though, still had confidence in his game.
“It’s one thing when you are playing at a certain level but not getting the results. It’s very frustrating and it’s tough to be patient,” said Mickelson, when asked if he’d maintained confidence ahead of the PGA.
“But when you know that you’re playing at a certain level and you are patient and it finally does click, like it did at the PGA, I felt like I had been playing at that level for a couple of months but I wasn’t getting it out.
“Then when it all comes together at a perfect time like that was exciting to put it together.
“I feel like — or I’m hopeful that some of the things that I had learned heading in will carry over and give me some more opportunities this summer, because I feel like I’m playing some good golf.”
He added, “When you continue to work hard, do the right things, and see the progress but not get the results, it’s very frustrating, and a lot of times people will stop or quit because they’re just not getting out of it what they feel they’re putting into it.
“But you kind of learn in plateaus, and every now and then you might be working hard, working hard, doing the right things and not getting the progress, and then you kind of get a spike.
“That spike came at the PGA to where it all kind of came together and you put it all together it was at the right time.
“Hopefully, I’ll continue to play at a new plateau, at a little bit higher level, because some things started to click.”
The added confidence and improved form could not be coming at a better time: Mickelson has completed three of the four legs of the career grand slam, agonizingly finishing runner-up at the U.S. Open six(!) times (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2013).
“It’s a unique opportunity because I’ve never won a U.S. Open,” said Mickelson. “It’s in my backyard. I have a chance to prepare properly, and I wanted to put in the right work.
“So I’ve kind of shut off all the noise. I’ve shut off my phone. I’ve shut off a lot of the other stuff to where I can kind of focus in on this week and really give it my best chance to try to play my best.
“Now, you always need some luck, you always need things to kind of come together and click, but I know that I’m playing well, and I just wanted to give myself every opportunity to be in play at my best.”
If he pulls off the back-to-back majors, he will become just the sixth player to win all four majors, joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.