Dude’s turning 50 this month? Does not seem possible! Wasn’t it just last year, at the Masters, that the guy was bopping down Magnolia Lane in a courtesy car, a cellphone pointed at him, declaring himself ready to “hit bombs” with his 125-mile-per-hour clubhead speed? What grown man does that? Aside from Phil. The clip’s been viewed five million times.
Find a younger 50-year-old. One of his signature moves, post-round, is to push his luxuriant hair back off his forehead, like a surfer coming out of the ocean. Why? Because he still can. In his half-nutty interview series, Phireside with Phil, he’s matched wits with Larry David, his mother, Jordan Spieth, Tiger himself (in a frame). And who wins these tête-à-têtes? One guess.
“You know Phil,” his wife, Amy, likes to say. “He’s all about the fun.”
And yet, despite all the fun or maybe because of it, Phil Mickelson has been able to amass one of the greatest records in golf history, lefty-style. (Players of all ages stand in awe of his short game, but his full swing is underappreciated, a model of power and rhythm.) His five Grand Slam titles are, of course, the crown jewel of his resume. And then there are the 44 Tour wins, between 1990 and 2019. A 30-year run as one of the best players in the game. The length of his career brings to mind only Sam Snead, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson — but no one has played the game with more sustained brio. It fits that he’s a famously good tipper. Phil leaves joy in his wake. Here are 10 things that make Lefty Lefty.
1. In 1980, at age 10, he wins the IMG Academy Junior World Golf Championship
Once upon a time, a golf prodigy named Phil prowled the sun-drenched courses of Southern California, particularly the public tracks of San Diego. He often played with his father, a pilot, and his maternal grandfather, a commercial fisherman. He grew up to be big and strong but never lost his impish boyishness. San Diego is still his home.
2. In 1990, at age 20, he aces the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills
Some years after Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and some years before Tiger Woods, Phil took top honors at the U.S. Am. A year earlier, he was named to his first Walker Cup team. And two years in a row — 1990 and ’91 — he was the low amateur at the U.S. Open. His long relationship with the USGA was off to a rousing start.
3. In 2000, at age 30, he notches another landmark win: the Tour Championship
Phil’s triumph at East Lake was by two shots — over Tiger Woods his own self. He also won the PGA Tour’s other main-stage event, The Players Championship, in 2007, over Sergio Garcia, also by two shots. That’s some double, especially from a player who enjoys challenging Tour orthodoxy at least now and again.
4. In 2010, two months shy of 40, he sews up his third green jacket
Phil Loves, Part I: Augusta National. Not just the course, which is perfect for a left-hander who hits bombs. Not just the tournament, which he has won three times. But the club itself, for its gentility, for its sense of history, for its refined membership. For its wine cellar.
5. In 2019, on the edge of 50, it’s Phil and Pebble — again
Phil Loves, Part II: Pebble Beach. He has won the AT&T Pro-Am five times. His mother’s father was a kid caddie at Pebble when the course opened in 1909. The social element of the event, playing with a partner, suits Mickelson perfectly. He also loves his pre-tournament visits to Cypress Point.
6. Forever, it means signing for fans
In the short history of autograph collecting, there may not be anybody, in any walk of life, who has done more signing than Arnold Palmer. But Phil Mickelson would have to be in the all-time top 10. He signs programs, photos, visors, scorecards, flags, backs, thighs and some other body parts. He signs after shooting 65 and after shooting 75. He chats his way through the sessions. He’s told a million people that, yes, he plays left-handed but writes his name right-handed. Along the way, he has promoted the game immeasurably.
7. It means jawing with the press
In good times and bad, Phil is a good quote. He speaks to reporters before every event and after almost every round. He uses his interviews to sell himself, his brands and the game. The level of candor is often refreshing. His five-word summation of his play at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot will live eternally: “I am such an idiot.”
8. It means trying to look like a million…
Lefty has a tailor in London. The cuff of his trousers catches the laces of his shoes just so. The shoes are made from animals he might have (sad to say) killed. They’re more expensive than your first car. Phil’s belts, the same. He does black about as well as J. Cash. In a world where conformity rules, he stands up for style. He’s in show business and he knows it.
9. And putting family first…
Nothing is more important to Phil than family. He learned that from his family, nuclear and extended. Amy’s parents. His own. His brother, who is his caddie. His sister, also a professional golfer. His three children. His wife. Is there a plane in the sky, over a crowded course, heading west? There must be a Mickelson graduation.
10. And embracing your Archnemesis
Golf was lucky to have Phil and Tiger at the same time. Two Southern Californian prodigies who took up the game on public courses alongside their military-trained, golf-obsessed dads. And there the similarities end. For years, they were frenemies, if that. Then something changed. They could not be more different, and between them they offered something for everyone. Tiger or Phil? Yes, please.
But ultimately, it means taking a risk, even if that means losing (Grr, Winged Foot!)
Phil was once asked the difference between a great shot and a smart shot. “A great shot is when you pull it off,” he said. “A smart shot is when you don’t have the guts to try it.” Phil Mickelson became a successful golfer playing a long series of smart shots. He became a great golfer by pulling off some insanely difficult ones. And he became a legend for his willingness to try them. Thanks for going for it, Lefty. Happy Birthday.