Phil Mickelson’s success shows that age is just a number


Phil Mickelson, 50, said on Monday that he has a “unique opportunity to become just the sixth player in history to complete the career grand slam. It will require him to slay his multiple US Open ghosts, but perhaps there is no better venue to do so in his childhood town of San Diego.

Last month, Mickelson made history by becoming the oldest ever winner of a major, by prevailing at the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. The overwhelming majority of golf’s chroniclers had all but penned his competitive obituary.

Yet the left-hander’s sixth major ripped up the scripts, shredded the game’s norms, and now he threatens to add another frankly ridiculous chapter to his story by shrugging off his six runner-up finishes in his national championship.

“It’s a unique opportunity because I’ve never won a US Open and it’s in my backyard,” Mickelson said after arriving at the South Course, revealing that the US PGA celebrations have been kept to a minimum.

“I’ve 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 on this week and really give it myself the best chance of playing my best," Mickelson said. "Yes, 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 why should Mickelson not sound confident? Granted, he turns 51 on Wednesday, and back-to-back majors as the veterans’ poster boy might seem inconceivable, especially because of his history with the US Open. But he is competing at a course where he first teed it up as a schoolboy and where he has won three times as a professional.

Furthermore, he has the huge added incentive of knowing what his major resurrection in South Carolina meant to the game at large. He has given his sport emphatic confirmation that even at the elite level, golf is a pursuit for all ages. As the experts told Telegraph Sport, nothing about his date of birth should hold him back.

Tom Watson 

Eight-time major champion who was second in 2009 Open, aged 59.

I did not find Phil Mickelson’s US PGA win “unbelievable”, as so many seemed to, because I thought he could still win each and every time that he teed it up. To be honest, though, I would not have thought the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island was ideal for him because of all the landmines waiting to wreck your scorecard. Yet Phil negotiated the 72 holes brilliantly and it was wonderful to watch him, as a 50-year-old, break the record for the oldest major winner. 

He put an awful lot into it and I could not be happier for him. I was also overjoyed for the game itself. I was waiting for something like this to happen, because I just do not believe that when you turn 50 your career is over. That’s for a couple of reasons. 

First, you can still be in great health, so you can still hit the ball a long way. Second, you know you are conditioned to play tournament golf. I felt like that at Turnberry [the 2009 Open, where he was beaten in a play-off]. I had won there before, so I felt I had that advantage, but also tee-to-green I was playing some of my best-ever stuff. 

I did not differentiate that it was on the seniors’ tour. Golf is golf. And deep down I was dismayed that we veterans are written off and wanted to prove otherwise. Age does not have to be a barrier in golf, although there has to be a cut-off point. For me it was when I was 62. My distance was decreasing and that was soon to be that. 

I am not sure if 62 will be the cut-off point for everyone, because we are all different, but certainly 59 was OK and I had so many contact me afterwards saying: “Hey, you gave me another shot at life. If you can do that at 59, why can’t I do this or that?” 

Phil’s win will do the same for so many people, including his peers. England has a young man called Lee Westwood. What is he, 48? He is playing great and there is no reason why he cannot win his first major. Dedication is massive, but belief is also a big part of it.

Pete Cowen 

Coach to professional golfers such as Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka.

Three things are assisting longevity: technique, training and technology. Technology is a massive part of it. And not only with the advances in equipment, which means even the seniors can hit it out of sight. See Mickelson on the range and it looks like he is setting up his own space lab, he has that many gadgets. 

He is dissecting his swing through the data produced by these launch monitors and trying to get an edge wherever he can with his swing. He has TrackMan, FlightScope, GCQuad… you name it. And when he goes on the practice green, he has the most complicated putting gadget I have ever seen. It is all computerised and, like Bryson [DeChambeau], he is trying to make it a bit like a science, which is ironic when you consider his abundance of natural talent. 

Andrew [Getson, his coach] has introduced more solidity in his technique. He is more stable and can control his ball flight. The technology has allowed them to work out what technique is required to hit the ball further. Phil clearly has a great work ethic, but with the guys who have been out of Tour a long time and who can still deliver, they know not to stress their bodies as much as everyone might think. 

I have always told my players: “Your physical movement in a round of golf is about one minute.” An average of 44 shots takes roughly one and a half seconds per shot. Yeah, you do a lot of walking and a lot of thinking, but in a real terms in a tournament, even if you hit 100 balls before the round, 100 after the round, it is only 10 minutes of actual physical golfing effort. And if you are using the muscles correctly they can sustain their mechanics for so long. 

It is only the nutters who overdo it who get injured – and I do not want to name anyone. I think golfers now realise that there is a professional life after 50. The seniors’ tour has dangled that carrot and when they win it that gives them so much confidence that they are not done. So they train more, keep their bodies in shape and ensure their fundamentals are right, which, as I have said, is easier than ever with all these machines. 

I can see players winning well into their fifties. Phil will have given them more belief and inspiration. And he, himself, might not be finished yet. There’s the little matter of the career grand slam for him this week, isn’t there?

Rachael Tibbs 

Titleist Performance Institute-certified golf fitness professional who has worked with European Tour winners.

It is simple enough, really. Getting stronger is the foundation to increasing speed and power, and with that comes increased clubhead speed and distances. 

Improved strength also makes the body more robust, so you are less susceptible to stress and injuries from practice and play. 

Increased fitness allows your body to handle more stress and better food intake helps it to recover quicker. Better recovery and increased energy allows you to practice longer and harder; and increased practice can result in better performance.

Maybe before, the technical side and physical side of golf did not go hand in hand, but now it does. And that obviously leads to fewer injuries and greater longevity. 

Diet is important. In the past he [Mickelson] was not the greatest advocate of healthy living, but he has educated himself and gives his body the best chance of being prepared. 

We are already seeing more over-fifties following his example. It can only be a good thing.

Dr Deborah Graham

Golf psychologist to more than 400 players on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions.

Phil mentioned working on his focus but, having worked with thousands of top golfers of all ages, I have found focus and concentration to be related to many other factors before age. 

Age can actually be an advantage for the golfer who grows wiser with experience if it affords them more confidence, and better skills for managing tension, stable emotions, decisiveness, peace of mind and so on. 

Phil employed meditation and that is immensely helpful. We train many of our clients on a wearable biofeedback device we call a Mind Meter to help a player quickly learn personalised thoughts and techniques for lowering arousal and quieting their minds on cue with techniques that work best for them. 

“Too old” in golf depends more on a “physical” age more than a chronological one: is the player a non-smoker, do they have a good diet, are they a healthy weight, do they exercise their body and mind? 

Tiger [Woods] once said, “In golf you are never ‘there’.” What I think he meant by that is for him, golf presents perpetual fun challenges. 

The players who have the greatest longevity seem to be the ones who enjoy setting regular challenging goals that are just out of reach but realistic. Phil is plainly having the time of his life.