by Jeff Skinner
Phil Mickelson had already earned his place in golf history. With four major championships, over 40 PGA Tour wins and a spot in the Hall of Famer the 43 year old had already earned a significant place in golf history. But his win at The Open Championship puts him in an entire different place .
Mickelson’s major career has had some ups and downs. It took him a lifetime to finally break through for his first major at The Masters in 2004. Phil had the same problem many golfers of his generation had: Tiger Woods. Woods was gobbling up major championships like peanuts at a baseball game since he came on tour. That left Phil and the boys scrambling for his leftovers.
But after that first major win the wall had been broken down and Mickelson followed with a win at the 2005 PGA Championship then claimed his second Masters in 2006. He worked his magic at the 2010 Masters for his fourth major and a seat in the Hall of Fame was waiting for him. The Masters looked to be his major, his course.
While he was doing all that the U.S. Open had become his nemesis. Going into this year’s U.S. Open he had five second place finishes and after an excruciating finish at Merion he was left with his sixth runner up finish. But one thing was clear he had the game to win on an U.S. Open course. It was fate, a bad bounce, a poor wedge a bump in the green that had cost him that major. But it was different at the Open Championship.
Phil’s game, as ever changing as it has been over the years had been one of high shots and high spin. Like many players he would bomb it, find it, wedge it and putt it. But a bombers game isn’t suited for the unique varieties of links golf.
Links golf is laden with troubles, bounces and bunkers, many unseen from the tee. It’s a different game and for all Phil’s skill it was his insistence on playing “his game” instead of playing “links golf” that held him back at the Open Championship previously.
Before this win in eighteen appearances he missed the cut four times (in 21 Masters only one missed cut) and managed only two top tens.
But recently Phil decided to change his game when he went across the pond and visit the links, true links. No longer would he bomb it a mile high and try and hit it out of the heather. No more super flops or high spinners that had become his trademark on parkland courses. He would adapt his game, finally, to the links that demand a different mindset and strategy to be successful.
He did just that two weeks ago at the Scottish Open and with that strategic victory he rode a tsunami of confidence into Muirfield and claimed his first and most unlikely Open Championship.
But this win could not be the only Open Championship win for Mickelson. Links golf is a game that rewards experience. Just ask Tom Watson who nearly set the world on its ear in 2009 when he missed claiming his sixth Claret Jug at 59 years old. Ernie Els was 42 when he won the Open last year and so was Darren Clarke in 2011. Forty eight year old Miguel Angel Jimenez had the second round lead here this week and we have seen “older” golfers contend at the Open Championship like no other major.
So with Phil’s reconfigured links style game I say he could easily win another Open Championship. After having realized that “his way” wasn’t working and embracing the links game with his calculated change in strategy he has another ten years of realistic shots at the oldest major.
To say Phil is revitalized by this win is an understatement. He was already beloved in the United Kingdom and when he comes back next year he’ll be treated as King of the Links. Now I am not saying that Phil will go on and win five Opens like Watson did but another Open or two is within his grasp.
If Phil continues to stay healthy and he’s able to win another Open he’ll be heralded as one of “their own” and maybe just maybe fall into an even more rare group of golfers.
The Scottish people so loved Bobby Jones they made him a “freeman” of St. Andrews, a very rare honor. Tom Watson with five Opens is a god over there and referred to as “Our Tom.” Another Open Championship for Mickelson and he’ll have earned another title, “Our Phil.”