Can Phil Mickelson Get His Groove Back?

Phil Mickelson at the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, image:

Phil Mickelson at the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, image:

Golf fans are a greedy bunch. The game is seemingly overrun with exciting young stars and still golf fans demand more. They want their old lions to roar in defiance to the changing of the guard as well.

Not that you can blame them… heck, we’re part of it too! It seems as though the PGA Tour has all the components to build a super car, but the engine is just not firing properly. Since the anointment of the current incarnation of “The Big Three,” there have been no head-to-head duels among Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy. Throw in Rickie Fowler, and you still get the same thing. There have not even been any tournaments when at least two of the three-slash-four are in serious contention, let alone a major. McIlroy eases into the golf year, the only headlines Day has made since last golf season was when his wife Ellie got steamrolled by LeBron James at an NBA game, and Spieth maintained such a vigorous overseas schedule that it wore down a 22-year old. The Big Three seem as if they’re playing on separate tours. But wouldn’t it be fun to see one of our old favorites make a comeback? Would it be possible for a blast from the past to pose a serious challenge?

The Strange 40s

Let’s take a moment to recall the record-holder for most Senior majors – Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear scarcely played the Senior Tour but collected eight majors when he did. He won the 17th of his record 18 PGA Tour majors when he was 40 years old. So Nicklaus dominated in his 20s and 30s and still smoked his contemporaries in his 50s? But the 40s? His only major was his “win for the ages” at the Masters in 1986 at the age of 46 and he had only two other PGA wins in his 40s. After the age of 42 he had only the Masters win as a Top-Five finish.

Which brings us to Phil Mickelson, aged 45, a few months shy of 46.

So far Mickelson’s fifth decade of life looks pretty much like every other golfing great save for Vijay Singh, who started golf late and Sam Snead, who was a freak of golfing nature. Phil won a couple of titles in his early 40s, and then caught a magical final round at Muirfield to capture the Open Championship in 2013. And now he’s endured an almost three-year winless streak. Standard fare for a superstar golfer in his 40s.

What Can Be Expected of Mickelson Going Forward?

Phil says he’s happy with his recent swing change and is having more fun playing golf than any time in years. So the attitude’s certainly right. But for longtime Mickelson watchers, the five-foot putt spinning around the cup on the 72nd hole at Pebble Beach this weekend was an all-too familiar sight. Every time Mickelson pops up in contention, his short putts seem to stall an impending charge. He took a two-shot lead into Sunday’s round, but failed to get the golf ball up and in on three straightforward chips on the back nine, leaving him one tantalizing stroke short of getting the job done. However, this is an improvement from the last couple PGA Tour starts in 2016, going from a T-3, to a T-11, and now a second place.

Mickelson’s life is in a different place these days. Nicklaus prided himself on never missing one of his kids’ big games when they were in school, and Mickelson now arranges his golfing schedule around his kids’ school breaks. Is he likely to get a renewal of sustained excellence that brings him into the ranks of the game’s top players? No, probably not – but he will win again. Maybe in a major. And maybe even in a head-to-head battle with Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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