Tour Confidential: Phil Mickelson’s win for the ages, Ocean Course, Brooks Koepka

Phil Mickelson on Sunday after winning the PGA Championship to become, at 50, the oldest major champion ever.

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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Phil Mickelson’s victory, as a 50-year-old, at the PGA Championship, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, and Brooks Koepka’s reputation.

1. Fifty-year-old Phil Mickelson did what no one saw coming: win the 103rd PGA Championship to become the oldest major winner in history. What will most stick with you from Phil’s performance?

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Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): The feeling that at any moment it could all come crashing down. Every shot felt like it had tournament-deciding implications, even when he had a huge lead, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say I didn’t feel certain he would win until his approach found the green on the 72nd hole. It was vintage Lefty, and boy was it fun.

Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): That the entire week was decidedly un-Phil. He didn’t seem jovial with the press, he was curt with a cameraman, he flashed the thumbs-up, but wasn’t really looking at the fans. And he drove the ball like a stallion. All of that is to say that the man sort of reinvented himself to win at 50. Hitting bombs, hitting irons like he was 24, rolling the rock as good as ever. I will never forget how new it all seemed.

Jessica Marksbury, multimedia editor (@Jess_Marksbury): That ridiculous short game. Aside from the obvious highlight — the chip-in on 7 — Phil got it up-and-down time and again under extremely difficult, stressful circumstances, not to mention brutal lies. Also, the incredible effort he put into controlling his emotions. You could tell it took a toll.

James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): How fun it was to ride the roller coaster with him on Sunday. Phil’s performance was, as we all know, anything but sure-footed, but that added so much to the experience. Everyone, Phil included, was clinging to the edge of their seat till his approach landed safely on the 72nd hole. If that’s the last time I ride the roller coaster with Lefty, I’m leaving happy.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: The trooper shades, and imagining what went on behind them.

Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): Along the lines of what a few others above said, and what Mickelson said himself, the focus. Take his tee shot on 17. On the hardest hole on the course, in front of a spirited crowd, while holding a lead on the final day of a major, while trying to become the oldest major champion ever, Mickelson said he felt the wind. It changed directions. And he stepped away. Does Mickelson in his 20s and 30s do that? I’m not sure. 

2. Where does this victory rank among Mickelson’s career achievements?

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Melton: No. 1, no questions asked. The Open Championship win came out of left field, but this win came from another planet. There were no signs that this would be Phil’s week, yet he gutted it out and came out on top. Winning like that at age 50 is certainly the top accomplishment of his decorated career. 

Bamberger: No. 1, no questions asked. Thanks, Z.

Zak: This is his greatest achievement and will go down as the greatest memory of his career. How can it not? The greatest testament to a full, full, full career in golf, and a victory at 50 on perhaps the toughest course in the world. The only thing that could top it … well, it takes place in four weeks.

Marksbury: For us, the viewers and fans, it has to be No. 1, given the sheer unexpectedness and happy-surprise factor. Who knows where it ranks for Phil. I’m sure he’s gratified by the achievement, but it feels like the emotional impact could have been higher for him if his wife and kids had been on-site. I was yearning for Phil’s version of Tiger’s 2019 Masters moment on the 18th green and felt kind of disappointed when it didn’t happen.

Colgan: Yep, what they said. ^

Piastowski: No. 1, in a career full of highlights. The breakthrough win at the 2004 Masters and the emotional victory at the 2010 Masters are also up there, of course.  

3. Before Mickelson, the oldest player to win a major was Julius Boros, who at 48 won the 1968 PGA Championship. One could argue fields are deeper today than they were in the 1960s, but when you also consider equipment advancements and modern players’ emphasis on fitness, is Mickelson’s win more or less impressive than Boros’? 

Phil Mickelson Tim Mickelson
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Melton: I know very little about Julius Boros and his win in 1968, so I will leave this question to the more seasoned staffers here at *cough* Bambi. *cough*

Bamberger: Lexi Thompson’s mother’s father delivered milk to the Boros home.

Zak: How could it not be more impressive? I also know little about Mr. Boros, but Phil took down Koepka! The king of majors! He gave strokes back to Koepka and Oosty and the rest of the field, and then jumped right back on them. The best field in golf.

Marksbury: Yeah, always tough to compare eras. Gotta give Phil the edge, especially when you consider the stage: the longest major championship ever! Phil topping the tournament’s longest drive with that 366-yard bomb was just icing on the cake.

Bamberger: I think Boros’ win is more impressive, in its time, only because there was less cultural acceptance of what a golfer could do at 48 (or 50). What Phil did is incredible. Two incredible feats.

Colgan: With the disclaimer that I’m not yet half Phil’s or Julius’ ages when they won, I’d have to lean toward Phil. The gap between young and old has never been greater in professional golf than right now, particularly given the advances listed above. Phil’s victory (at two years Boros’ senior) seems damn-near impossible.

Piastowski: Agreed that it’s difficult to compare eras. And while Mickelson edged Koepka, Boros bested Arnold Palmer. I’ll give the edge to Phil, simply by the fact that he’s older. Two great accomplishments, for sure.  

4. Brooks Koepka started the final round one stroke behind Mickelson and well within striking distance of his fifth major title. But he played the par-5s in three over and shot a 74 to finish two back, albeit on a still balky knee. Does this Sunday at all tarnish Koepka’s reputation for unflappableness in the majors?   

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Melton: Koepka was never going to win every time he was in contention. Golf is just too hard. Even Tiger didn’t close the deal every time (hello, Y.E. Yang), so a runner-up finish shouldn’t diminish his achievements in the big ones. I was still extremely impressed with Koepka’s ability to keep himself in it until the very end despite being less than 100 percent. 

Zak: It shows he’s not invincible. He had a bad left miss going on all afternoon and couldn’t fix it until it was too late. When he needed to carry that bunker on 16 for an eagle chance, he didn’t. I think he’s still unflappable, but nobody conquers this game forever. That said, all he needed was a 71 to win. 

Marksbury: Not at all. Koepka put himself in the mix yet again, and there’s a lot to be said for that at the game’s highest level. Plus, as Zephyr said, you can’t win them all. Just ask Jack Nicklaus.

Bamberger: Oh, Jess. It pains me to disagree with you. But, yes, it does. After turning the table after just one hole? That was Koepka’s moment to step on Phil’s throat, Tiger-style.

Colgan: Now you’re speaking my language, Michael. Brooks’ mythos is as a stone-cold killer. Phil left the door firmly ajar for him this afternoon, and he didn’t capitalize. (Though I’ll admit I admired his grace in defeat — maybe Brooks isn’t ALL frat bro, all the time.) 

Piastowski: No. Capital N. Golf is hard. But on one knee — and shoot, maybe no knees — he tied for second. That’s incredible. The dude knows how to show up when the tournaments are the biggest. No one wins every time out, not even Tiger. 

5. The windy Ocean Course at Kiawah Island lived up to its fearsome rep, giving the players all they could handle over four rounds. Would you like to see Pete Dye’s design appear more frequently on the major rota?

Melton: I have no issue with the Ocean Course becoming a regular stop for the PGA Championship, and we can throw Whistling Straits in there, too. So I guess what I’m saying is yes?

Zak: With the PGA Championship moving to May, perhaps it should take the ceremonial spot of Whistling Straits, which won’t be able to host that event in May anymore. Whistling hosted three PGAs in 12 years, and I think we’d learn to really love Kiawah in a sick and twisted way if it came around three times every two decades. 

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Bamberger: The golf course exists, as best I can tell, as an excellent venue for major events in beautiful weather on TV. But it’s not a real course, not in the conventional sense of walk the course, find your ball. I’m sure they sold a million tee times this week. The setup was excellent. It was a great event. But it’s really tough on spectators, and I just don’t know. By which I mean alternate every year between the Ocean Course and Pebble Beach.

Colgan: Eh. I think it’s worth noting that we were four windless days away from a 16-under winner. Kiawah seems like a lovely location, but I’d stop short of calling it a blue-chip location.

Marksbury: Most definitely. The vistas we were treated to of the crashing surf and perfectly manicured golf course made for a sublime viewing experience. And why should the U.S. Open have a monopoly on carnage? Bring it on!

Piastowski: Yes. Capital Y. The golf was entertaining for all four days, which is what we want, and most every player said the course was firm but fair, which is all they want.  

6. It’s hard not to fixate on Phil, but what was the second-most important storyline to emerge from the PGA?

Melton: Louis Oosthuizen adding another silver medal to his hardware! The man is four strokes away from having a career grand slam to his credit, and he’s six strokes away from having five(!) major titles. Louis is fewer than 10 strokes from being one of the all-time greats. Instead, he has merely put together a good, but not great, career.

Zak: I hate to focus too much on the guy, but Koepka is my answer. His ability to play major championships better than anyone else needs to get properly documented. And not just in stat boxes on the broadcast. He’s explained to me the zone he gets in during majors, and of course it doesn’t make any special sense to an idiot like myself. But to him, it does. Even when he’s hampered. He has to be the favorite for Torrey. And for Royal St. George’s. And then maybe for Augusta, too. Don’t doubt him. It makes no sense. 

Marksbury: Both excellent choices, guys. I’ll go with Will Zalatoris, who quietly posted his third consecutive top 8 finish in a major championship. Hard not to envision him winning one of these soon enough.  

Bamberger: Tim.

Colgan: Rory looked completely unchanged from his recent major form, which is to say he was underwhelming. That wasn’t shocking on its face, but that BIG left miss concerns me heading forward.

Piastowski: Second most, right? Well, if you happen to be a 45-year-old golfer rehabbing, a win by a 50-year-old gives you hope that there are still good years ahead. 

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