Phil Mickelson Wins 2021 PGA Championship: How Lefty Called His Shot Before Kiawah Island
Maddie Meyer/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images. Pictured: Phil Mickelson
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Fourteen days ago, Phil Mickelson finished in 69th place at the Wells Fargo Championship.
It was nothing, really. A mere blip on a 30-year radar screen, another promising beginning upended by a disappointing finish. Ordinarily, you’d never even give it a second thought — and maybe Phil himself wouldn’t, either, except for one little thing.
Mickelson saw something in himself that nobody else did. He felt it, like a sixth sense that only historically transcendent golfers can feel.
“I am going to win again soon,” he told his brother, Tim, who has also been his caddie for the past four years.
Even Tim knew that was asking a lot. For a 50-year-old with only two victories on the PGA TOUR in the past seven seasons, wouldn’t he have to crawl before he walked, then walk before he ran?
“I just said, ‘Well, let’s just make sure we’re in contention on a Sunday,’” Tim recalled. “I was trying to downplay the situation.”
Two days after that result at Quail Hollow, his final start before this week’s PGA Championship, Mickelson posted this ominous tweet:
I’ve failed many times in my life and career and because of this I’ve learned a lot. Instead of feeling defeated countless times, I’ve used it as fuel to drive me to work harder. So today, join me in accepting our failures. Let’s use them to motivate us to work even harder.
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) May 11, 2021
Of all the reasons for the “OH MY GOD, I CAN’T BELIEVE HE DID IT” reactions to his sixth major championship title on Sunday — from age to form and everything in between — perhaps the most relevant is that even though we didn’t know, Phil called his shot.
He pulled a Babe Ruth, pointing toward the outfield stands. He gave it his best Joe Namath, sitting poolside while guaranteeing victory. Maybe he didn’t tell the rest of us, but those in his inner circle knew all about it.
“I’ve believed for some time now without success that I could play at my best and compete in major championships still,” Mickelson said after a final-round 73 that yielded a two-stroke victory here at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, “but until this week, I haven’t proven it to myself or anyone else.”
Without this belief, the rest of it never would’ve happened.
The tension, yo-yoing back and forth with the lead throughout the weekend. The chaos, being swallowed by a rabid gallery while walking toward the 18th green. The celebration, embracing Tim in a huge bear hug directly after tapping in the clinching par putt.
We can boil Mickelson’s second PGA Championship down to the simple fact that he scored better than his fellow 155 competitors over four rounds, but that’s a massive disservice to the work that he’s done to get to this point.
There are many reasons why a man of his age has never before claimed a major title. Some are physical or technical, others are mental or physiological.
Mickelson didn’t just overcome all of these barriers by accident.
Years ago, he started working with swing instructor Andrew Getson, whom he’s praised for helping improve his game. After his win, he spoke about the Australian’s ability to simplify the swing for him, which has served as a vital piece to figuring out that puzzle.
The mental side has been a recent focal point, so to speak. For months, Mickelson has been talking about focus and his inability to consistently maintain it on the golf course, starting meditation to help keep his mind in the moment.
All of this has helped him prepare to win another major. Even his biggest sacrifice, one which elicited laughter when he revealed it Sunday, but is all part of his continued drive to remain relevant as a world-class golfer.
“Food,” Mickelson said. “Yeah, I’ve got to eat a lot less and I’ve got to eat better. I just can’t eat as much and I have to let my body kind of recover. But it’s also been a blessing for me, because I feel better and I don’t have inflammation and I wake up feeling good. It’s been a sacrifice worth making.”
Maybe these are penances which players who are younger and hungrier — no pun intended — make on a regular basis, but it can be suggested that no player of Phil’s age ever won a tournament of this significance because they were no longer willing to make those sacrifices.
It was all enough to lead him to that recent self-belief. It was enough to get him to a place where, coming off a forgettable result, he believed he was ready to triumph once again.
“Certainly one of the moments I’ll cherish my entire life,” Mickelson said. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling of excitement and fulfillment and accomplishment to do something of this magnitude when very few people thought that I could.”
These were the thoughts racing through his mind after perhaps his greatest accomplishment in a career full of them. While the world watched him climb the leaderboard and vault into the lead, hoping he could win, Mickelson knew he could.
He knew it for weeks, even if nobody else did.