Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have, to put it mildly, experienced a difficult relationship in the past so perhaps it says everything about the magnitude of the left-hander’s historic win here on Sunday night that Woods was one of the first to send out public congratulations.
With his two-shot victory in the US PGA Championship, Mickelson, 50, became the oldest ever winner of the major, smashing Julius Boros’s long-held record by more than two years. Woods, at home in Florida recuperating from traumatic leg injuries sustained in the February car crash, clearly watched the action and was overwhelmed by what he saw.
Indeed, he suggested that Mickelson’s first major win in eight years - that finally erased Boro’s 53-year-old record mark - can provide motivation in his own latest comeback. The pair have grown closer over the years, with the duo appearing in two charity matches before and during the pandemic.
Truly inspirational to see @PhilMickelson do it again at 50 years of age. Congrats!!!!!!!
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) May 23, 2021
Mickelson later tweeted back: “Thank you. I’m pulling for your quick return.”
The reaction to the success here to the Ocean Course was extraordinary, with Jack Nicklaus, the 18-time major champion, posting a personal video full of plaudits and ever player worth of their social media profile extending their own praise.
Outside of golf, legendary quarterback Tom Brady was gushing in his applause, as was America’s most popular talkshow host, Jimmy Fallon. But defending champion Collin Morikawa had the best line.
Hey Phil, 50 years old is older than 46. Congratulations, my friend. pic.twitter.com/drb8PzftaB
— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) May 24, 2021
“Amazing to see and very motivating for the future...can’t wait for 2047,” the 24-year-old said.
For his part, Mickelson seemed as shocked as anyone by “The Awe on the Shore”. He was the sixth player aged 50 or over to take a lead into the final round of a major, but he managed to go where his predecessors failed and smash that glass ceiling. Mickelson graciously acknowledged that Tom Watson’s remarkable run at Turnberry in 2009 - when as a 59-year-old, Watson was only beaten by Stewart Cink in play-off - gave him the conviction that it was possible.
Golf is insane. It’s just hitting me. The golf ball has no recollection of how old you are, and players can compete at any age. You just have to work and be willing to sacrifice things others aren’t. One day it’s great, the next it’s awful. What a sport I decided to play 😂
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) May 23, 2021
“I thought that was one of the greatest sporting performances, and he hit a perfect second shot [into the 18th in regulation] too,” Mickelson said. “He couldn't land it any better and it still went over [the back of the green|. It was one of the greatest performances in the sport and it's inspiring, yeah, to see people like that do it.
“And I hope that this inspires people, because there's no reason why you can't accomplish your goals at an older age. It just takes a little more work. “And there's no reason why the game of golf can't be the game for a lifetime. If you take care of your body and do it the right way, and now with the exercise physiology and technology that's out there that you can work out the right way to get your body to function right. I’m appreciative of that.”
Mickelson thanked his wife, Amy, his brother/caddie, Tim, and his coach, Andrew Getson, but this was essentially a triumph for the diligence of the individual.
“I worked harder and that’s the deal,'' Mickelson said. "I just had to work harder physically to be able to practice as long as I wanted to and I've had to work a lot harder to be able to maintain focus throughout a round. That's been the biggest challenge of late.
“My desire to play is the same. I've never been driven by exterior things. I've always been intrinsically motivated because I love to compete. I love playing the game. I love having opportunities to play against the best at the highest level. That's what drives me, and I think the belief that I could still do it inspired me to work harder. I just didn't see why it couldn't be done. It just took a little bit more effort.’'
What made his triumph all the more remarkable was that Mickelson was forced to replace a damaged one-iron barely 20 minutes before the final round. The face of his club had cracked on the range and brother Tim had to run off to collect a substitute.
"You can't swing it as hard as I hit it and not expect them to crack," Mickelson joked. "Fortunately I had a four-wood that's a very comparable club to that one-iron distance-wise and I was able to use that club effectively. There was a few times that I hit it and I hit that club very well. It's just one of those things that happens and you just have to be prepared for it, which is why I bring back-up clubs out here.”
Mickelson now heads to next month’s US Open with his belief restored that, just after his 51st birthday, he can become the sixth player to complete the career grand slam. Mickelson has finished runner-up six times in the US Open, but has not given hope that Torrey Pines, in his hometown of San Diego of all places, could witness an even more remarkable tale.
“I believe that if I stay sharp mentally I can play well at Torrey Pines,“ he said. “I’ll take two weeks off before that and go spend time on the greens. I know that I'm playing well and this could very well be my last really good opportunity to win a US Open. So I'm going to put everything I have into it.”
Brooks Koepka: 'I hurt my knee in crowd on 18 - but no one gives a s---'
By James Corrigan
Brooks Koepka, the runner-up in the US PGA Championship, has claimed that Sunday’s crowd invasion of the 18th exacerbated his right-knee injury and “no-one really gave a s---“.
The four-time major winner was the favourite going in the final here at the Ocean Course, bu despite taking the overnight lead off Phil Mickelson on the first, the four-time major winner trailed in four behind the left-hander after a 74.
Koepka, who underwent surgery on his knee in March, was clearly angry at the events on the last hole as Mickelson's supporters swarmed the last fairway. With the 50-year-old on the green and holding a two-shot lead, the result was obviously all but decided. Yet Koepka believes security was not tight enough.
“It would have been cool if I didn't have a knee injury and got dinged a few times in the knee in that crowd because no one really gave a s—“ Koepka, 31, said. “It’s cool for Phil. But getting dinged a few times isn't exactly my idea of fun.
“I was trying to protect my knee. I don't think anybody really understands until you actually you're coming out of surgery how -- I mean, even when I was doing rehab and there's five people kind of standing by your knee, you get a little skittish.
“Like I don't mind waiting or being in that crowd but getting my… I don't know, it felt like somebody tried to, I don't know what the deal was, but it's what it is. Be putting it in ice today. It feels like s--- right now.”
Koepka was not discounting the possibility that the supports injured him and his caddie, Ricky Elliott, purposefully. “ I don't know, it got bumped a few times,” he said. “Somebody jammed Rickie… Rickie stopped unintentionally because he got drilled in the face, and then I got drilled into the bag because he got stopped so quickly.
“But I don't know what someone tried to do or what, I don't know what thedeal was. There were so many people around.” Of course, Mickelson was not privy to that, but he described the situation as “unnerving”. “It was an incredible experience - I've never had something like that,” he said. “It was a little bit unnerving but it was exceptionally awesome, too. So that was kind of a special moment that I'll be appreciative of the way that people here have supported me and the entire tournament.”
The attendance was limited due to the pandemic, with 10,000 reported as a maximum number. The PGA of America, the event’s organiser would not confirm or deny that figure, but it did seem like many more. Masks were not compulsory, not even in the merchandise tents, and there were very few masks in evidence.
Koepka, the four-time major winner, paid tribute to Mickelson. “Phil played great,” he said. “That whole stretch when we turned after the 4th and 5th and played those holes, it's into off the left for me and that's quite difficult for a right-handed player. And it suited Phil right down to the ground, and I thought he played that entire stretch from about the 6th to the 13th so well.
“So you know, I'm happy for him, Amy [Mickelson’s wife] and Tim [Mickelson’s brother and caddie}. It's pretty cool to see, and you know, but I'm disappointed in myself.
“Right now, I'm super disappointed, pretty bummed.I don't know if there's a right word I can say here without getting fined, but it hurts. It's one of those things where I just never felt comfortable over the putts. I don't know why, what happened.
“You know, I spent the weekend before working on it and it was great, and you know, just over did it. I was trying to get my hands a little lower and ended up getting my hands too far low one under and actually ended up getting further away from the ball. The last nine, I just tried to go back to what I've always done and I felt like I was hitting better putts. I just wish I would have done it sooner.”