Phil Mickelson wrote all kinds of stories winning the PGA Championship last time out. Alex Perry recalls a captivating last day at Kiawah Island
There was a fun story doing the rounds before the final day of last year’s PGA Championship. Brooks Koepka as a child said he found his way into the Masters parking lot and asked Phil Mickelson for an autograph. “He said no,” Koepka explained. “Probably the only child Phil ever turned down.”
When asked about it, Mickelson joked, “Yeah, well, he shouldn’t have been there. I told him that too.
This snubbed youngster grew up to be a chilling killer – on the golf course, that is – and one hot Sunday in Kiawah Island found himself with the opportunity to right Augusta’s wrongs ago. all these years.
Very few words were spoken on the first tee. A simple nod is often more than enough in these situations. “Please welcome our 2005 PGA Champion – Phil Mickelson,” the announcer said into his microphone. Mickelson’s beaming smile appeared and he tilted his cap not once, not twice, but three times.
He drove his tee shot into the first cut. Nothing too worrying.
“Please welcome our 2018 and 2019 PGA Champion – Brooks Koepka.” A small head bow. Koepka was, as always, not there to make friends. He crushed it in the middle of the short stuff. He then hit his approach at 12 feet.
Mickelson’s approach found the front of the green, then inexplicably failed to penetrate Koepka’s ball with his first putt.
He might have regretted his actions some 20 years ago when his one-shot lead turned into a one-shot deficit with only one hole completed. Karma tapped his shoulder.
Thirteen minutes into the final round and it was over.
Mickelson, 50 and looking to become the oldest major championship winner in golf’s 161 years, couldn’t keep up with a man 20 years his junior and already looking for his fifth – a number that would have seen him tied his rival.
But we’ll never learn, will we?
Mickelson was a behind on the second tee. By the time he came in third, he had two leads. Aren’t you amused?
Then, in the fifth, came the decisive moment. A moment that you felt you would revisit again and again for years to come. A moment that made you realize how good it is to find galleries.
Mickelson, having found the area of sandy waste that borders the left side of the green, splashed it onto the small part of the dance floor he could see. One jump, two jumps, three jumps, inside.
It was Mickelson’s “oh my goodness” moment. Or, ultimately, “Oh my graceful.”
Mickelson would return that shot in the sixth and Koepka would equalize. But order was restored a few minutes later and Koepka’s challenge faded.
By the time they reached the 12th – it was here that Mickelson dropped three shots in two holes on Saturday to see his lead reduced from four to one – Lefty’s lead was five.
Mickelson drove his tee shot into galleries lining the fairway, and it led to an inexplicable sequence that saw a spectator pick up his ball.
Why they would do that at any golf tournament, let alone a major, is anyone’s guess. But it allowed Mickelson to joke with fans while they waited for a rules enforcer and ease any tension that might have been building up.
The upcoming 18 scenes were chaotic. A stark reminder of what we’ve been missing over the past few months. Not that Koepka liked them. “It would have been cool if I hadn’t had a knee injury and hadn’t been hit a few times in that crowd because no one really gave a fuck,” he said more late.
Mickelson closed his approach within a simple two-putt range and finished his round at par for a 1-for-73 for a 6-under 282.
In the end, the margin of victory was two over Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen – who bubbled well but never really seemed to want to charge. It was the South African’s fifth runner-up finish in major tournaments since beating his duck 11 years ago at St Andrews.
For our champion, however, victory brought all sorts of stories. It’s been well documented that he overtook Julius Boros as golf’s oldest major champion of all time, as well as breaking into the club of major sixes alongside Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino. On the men’s side, only 11 players have won more major tournaments than Mickelson.
But, perhaps most importantly for Mickelson, it resulted in a five-year exemption from the US Open. The one he so desperately craves.
The first of those ended in a tie for 62 at 11-over, 17 shots behind Jon Rahm, while – at the time of writing – Mickelson is taking a break from the game.
He already skipped the Masters and decided not to defend his PGA title. A decision has yet to be made on his Grand Slam bid at the US Open. He could not ? If he did, it would be pretty much the most Phil Mickelson thing ever.
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