Phil Mickelson on why he never stopped believing he could win again: ‘No reason why we can’t be our best later on in life’

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Relief pitcher Tug McGraw is credited with coining the phrase “Ya Gotta Believe,” which became the rallying cry of the 1973 New York Mets. Phil Mickelson may owe some royalties on that battle cry after his stunning victory at the 103rd PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

Despite not having registered a top-10 finish in a major since 2016, or even a top-20 finish on the PGA Tour this season, Mickelson still believed that he could not only win again, but win another major.

“I had seen the progress but I had not seen the results,” he said ahead of this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, “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.”

Mickelson credited playing against stiff competition with keeping him motivated to raise his game to their level. Nearly a year ago, he played a series of rounds with Xander Schauffele at The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, California, and Mickelson got waxed by the current World No. 6, who shot rounds of 64 and 63.

“I’m like, ‘Wow, OK. Let me try one more time,’ ” Mickelson recalled. “So, we go out next time and he shoots 62 and on a 220-yard par 3, I had to press and hit one to 4 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. He’s probably playing the best of any player in the world right now.’ ”

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At age 50, Mickelson worked harder than he ever had before, often playing as many as 45 holes a day and last month he posted scores in the low 60s at The Farms that convinced him he was on the verge of returning to the winner’s circle.

“Then I went to Innisbrook (for the Valspar Championship) and I missed the cut and I didn’t shoot the scores and I didn’t execute on Tour the way I had been at home,” he said. “I still had a barrier to break through and that’s why I was so frustrated 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.”

Mickelson stumbled from leading the Wells Fargo Championship after an opening 64 two weeks ago, finishing T-69, but his confidence didn’t waver, said his brother and caddie Tim Mickelson.

“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,’ ” Tim Mickelson said.

Mickelson’s longtime agent Steve Loy echoed that sentiment. “Every time I try to tell him, look, we are running out of time, he’s going, ‘I don’t want to hear it.’ ” On the morning of the final round, Loy sent a simple text message to Mickelson, who he caddied for 30 years ago when Mickelson won his first PGA Tour title as an amateur at Arizona State.

“I said, ‘Phil, I’m getting too old for this, but you aren’t. Let’s get it done.’ ” Loy recalled.

Mickelson flew home Sunday night after the victory and stayed up celebrating with his wife, Amy. He’s back in action this week at a tournament where he’s won two of his 45 PGA Tour titles.

“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,” he said.

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It will be Mickelson’s last start before the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, one of his childhood playgrounds, in San Diego, and he’ll take two weeks to prep for the one major that has eluded him all these years. Winning a sixth major championship has bolstered his belief that it isn’t too late for him to complete the career Grand Slam.

“One of two things are going to happen: Either that’s going to be my last win and I’m going to have one of the most cherished victories of my career to look back on and cherish for a long time, or I also may have kind of found a little something that helps me stay a little bit more present and helps me focus throughout round a little bit longer and maybe I can execute and play golf at the highest level for a nice extended period of time now,” Mickelson said. “I don’t know which one it’s going to be, but either way, they are both positive.”