In an article originally published to mark his 50th birthday in June 2020, we look at why Phil Mickelson remains a serious threat at Open Championships.
No player has ever won The Open after turning 50, but the Champion Golfer of 2013 is likely to feel he has a better chance than most of changing that statistic, especially after becoming the oldest major winner in history courtesy of his sensational success at the 2021 PGA Championship.
An improving Open record
Mickelson freely admits his performances at The Open in the first two decades of his career were “nothing to be proud of”, with a third-placed finish at Royal Troon in 2004 representing the only placing of note across his first 17 appearances from 1991 to 2010.
However, after working hard to adapt his play to the unique challenges of links golf, Mickelson has been a regular feature at the top of Open leaderboards over the past decade.
Either side of his memorable victory at Muirfield eight years ago, he earned second-place finishes at Royal St George’s in 2011 and Royal Troon in 2016, performing particularly impressively in the latter event only to be edged out by an inspired Henrik Stenson.
In his Chronicles of a Champion Golfer film, Mickelson said: “I think in The Open Championship, because it’s much more of a precision game and it’s impossible to overpower links golf, I feel like as you get older in your career you have more and more chances.”
That statement would certainly appear true in Mickelson’s case. Since 2010, when he celebrated his 40th birthday, no player has finished in the top two at The Open more often than he has.
A proven winner
Although he understandably does not contend for prizes on the PGA Tour as frequently as he did earlier in his illustrious career, Mickelson remains more than capable of matching the very best players in the game - as he proved so emphatically at Kiawah Island when claiming his sixth major title.
After enduring a lengthy winless streak following his Open triumph, he also recorded notable victories at the WGC-Mexico Championship in 2018 and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2019.
In addition, Mickelson is seemingly in better physical shape than ever, having focused on his fitness with a view to remaining competitive at the highest level for as long as possible.
Given his pedigree and enduring desire to extend his career, it would certainly be no surprise to see Mickelson enjoy further success and challenge for the Claret Jug once more.
Players older than Phil have come so close
Old Tom Morris remains the oldest winner of The Open, courtesy of his success in 1867 at the age of 46, but that record has twice come under serious threat in recent years from players over 50.
Greg Norman, a two-time Champion Golfer of the Year, was 53 in 2008 when he led after 54 and 63 holes at Royal Birkdale before eventually finishing third as Padraig Harrington prevailed.
The following year provided an even more remarkable narrative as five-time Open Champion Tom Watson came agonisingly close to glory.
Twenty-six years on from his fifth Open victory and at the age of 59, Watson led for much of the week at Turnberry and had an eight-foot putt for the win on the 72nd hole. Unfortunately for him and the millions of people willing him to complete the most incredible triumph, the opportunity was missed and he was beaten in a four-hole play-off by Stewart Cink.
While neither Norman nor Watson ultimately won, they showed it is possible for older players to thrive at The Open, particularly in conditions less conducive to low scoring.
Both men were also much further removed from their prime years than Mickelson, whose best days at The Open have all come within the last decade. When Watson finished second in 2009, it had been 26 years since his previous success in the Championship.
Mickelson will be 51 when The Open takes place in July at Royal St George’s, the scene of his runner-up finish in 2011. For all the reasons outlined above, it is quite possible he will be again be a leading contender.