Over-the-hill Phil? Mickelson not too old to win U.S. Open
Is it possible to be misquoted in an article I wrote myself?
I do seem to recall Charles Barkley once claimed to be misquoted in his own autobiography, so why can’t I make the same mistake? Yep, that’s it . . . I misquoted myself. How else could I have written that a soon-to-be 45-year-old Phil Mickelson is my pick to win at Chambers Bay, but then just a few days ago claimed being young is so important in today’s game?
I briefly thought that maybe I was losing my marbles, but then it dawned on me . . . because golf is so competitive at a young age, it allows players to remain competitive at an older age. As crazy as that sounds, I’ll try to explain.
Remember in 1986, in one of the best tournaments ever televised, Jack Nicklaus shot 30 on the final nine holes to win the Masters? The announcers kept reminding us how remarkable it was that a player, even the greatest golfer of all time, could pull off such a feat at the geriatric age of 46. It was a huge story since he was supposed to be way too old to contend, let alone win the green jacket. And the doubters were right. At the time, 46 was very old in the game of golf.
Years ago, most of the great golfers began to see their game swiftly deteriorate in their early 40s. Using my vast knowledge of golf trivia (or maybe it was Wikipedia), I can tell you that Nicklaus won only three of his 73 PGA Tour titles after age 42. Tom Watson won twice, and Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino won only once after their 42nd birthdays. Why, you ask? The reason really is pretty simple.
When I was young, some of the older golfers around Bay Hill would tell me that lifting weights was the worst thing anyone could do to his game. The muscles need to be loose, they would say as they ate their cheeseburgers and fries. Never EVER play tennis because it tightens your forearm muscles, ruining your touch and rendering your short game useless. And God forbid you go swimming. Your chest will get tight, and you won’t be able to make a decent turn. You’ll lose all your power! Of course, they didn’t think smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and enjoying a six-pack of Bud in the locker room after their rounds would hurt them at all. Those old-school guys aged far faster than today’s golfers.
Today, we know that all of the old advice was horribly wrong. Most modern players lift weights, eat right and have no idea what a cigarette tastes like. They aren’t in the bars after their rounds the way most of last century’s golfers were. They know that being the best they can be involves more than just practice -- it takes a whole lifestyle. Age catches up with all of us, and it still takes its toll on a golfer, but because Tour players use physical trainers, nutritionists and sports psychologists, they can still be very competitive until they retire over to the Champions Tour.
Which brings me back to Phil, and why I favor the six-time U.S. Open runner-up to win next week and complete his career Grand Slam against a field full of guys 25 and younger.
One thing I noticed after playing Chambers Bay is that the golf course is right up his alley. It’s incredibly long, and unlike a typical Open course it’s not particularly tight. Given Phil’s history of not being golf’s most accurate driver, this is a big plus. Another big factor at this year’s U.S. Open is the importance of a great short game. And Phil’s is the greatest. The slopes and undulations around the greens will drive most players crazy, so the maturity and patience of an older golfer will be a great asset.
Phil will turn 45 on Tuesday. This age hit the older generation like a ton of bricks, but things are different now. To a Hall of Famer like Mickelson, being 45 isn’t even a factor. Although I believe this could be his best chance to win the U.S. Open, in no way will it be his last chance.