04/13/2015

One look at Masters Champion Jordan Spieth’s age tells you that golf is becoming a young man’s game.

At 21, Spieth cruised to a victory so anticlimactic that he could have been justifiably disappointed he didn’t win by more. Spieth missed a short par putt on 18 that would have clinched the record low score for the tournament. He dropped shots throughout the day that came after uncharacteristic mistakes. Spieth, in other words, looked like the talented young player that he is.

He wasn’t alone either. The quintet of precocious stars Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, and Patrick Reed finished The Masters a combined 49-under par. On Sunday, they shot a collective -21. McIlroy and Matsuyama posted 66’s, while Fowler, the elder statesman at 26, made a move for yet another top-5 major finish. He fired 67 to claim T12.

classroom series

phil mickelson

You know the future has arrived when the top players in the game have a chance to shoot their age under par. The inverse result is that older players fall by the wayside. Mark O’Meara, Steve Stricker, and Ernie Els held their own this weekend (as did Tom Watson briefly), while the older-than-you-think players (Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, even Bubba Watson) struggled.

But if Sunday at Augusta showed us one thing beyond Spieth’s ascension, it’s this:

Phil Mickelson still has it.

For how long? That has yet to be seen, which means we need to appreciate Lefty while we have him. In the last three seasons Mickelson has defied logic with his steady top-5 performances at majors. He’s 44 years old, he’s battled nagging injuries, and after all of these years he still has trouble with the driver.

Then again, Lefty has never been one for convention. It’s what makes him so special. We saw it again during Sunday’s final round. On the Par-5 15th, Mickelson’s second shot landed firmly in the greenside bunker as he attempted to give himself a shot at eagle. No matter. He promptly splashed the ball out of the sand and into the cup for a cool three. Augusta National went ballistic even though Spieth had all but claimed the Green Jacket.

Phil inspires the masses because he displays an everyman demeanor. You’ve likely heard this over and over. But there’s truth to it. Mickelson is pudgy. He fights smiles as the crowd noise rises. He reduces golf to its simplest form—get the ball in the hole in the fewest shots possible. This often involves creative shots that few others dream about let alone see.

And boy is it infectious to watch. Even with a ho-hum, final round 69 Mickelson delivered the most entertaining 18 holes this side of Spieth. Multiple times he treated the contours of the undulating Augusta greens like putt-putt holes. He’d chip a ball lightly onto ridges and watch it work its way slowly back down to the cup. There were more direct routes—less fun ones too.

In any other year, -14, as Mickelson finished, earns a Green Jacket. This was Spieth’s tournament, though, from start to finish. And yet Lefty’s last contribution was fitting. His approach shot landed on the dreaded downslope that leads away from the 18th green. I texted my best friend, “We get to watch Phil produce one more chip shot here.”

Instead, he two-putted for par. Why expect anything different? Why expect anything?