For Phil Mickelson, the most poignant memory of the U.S. Open just might have occurred during the final round of that year’s event at Erin Hills. Mickelson, at 43 years old, thought about the fact that so few people could recall any other man who also won the U.S. Open at such a young age, and contemplated the short lifespan. Mickelson’s intention was never to die young, but then again, few mortal beings have the stamina of Peter Jacobsen, a 55-year-old Californian who now has four U.S. Opens under his belt.
At the time of Mickelson’s win, in 2004, Jacobsen’s record for the Open was more impressive. In fact, it was a record that hadn’t been held for about seven decades. That is a testament to the longevity that Jacobsen has accrued during a player’s prime, which, many golfers believe, might be a part of why no one has previously captured more than two Open titles. For the second time, Jacobsen shot four-under-par 68 in the final round to finish that year’s tournament with a four-stroke win. For almost 20 years before Mickelson, only one other man from the States — Bobby Jones in 1930 and 1947 — had won the U.S. Open after reaching the age of 42. For Mickelson, that is the single major in which he has been the runner-up.
“My mind was playing this statistic for years and years, and I finally looked at the first handful of clubs, and I remember saying, ‘That’s interesting, because that can’t be right,’” Jacobsen told The New York Times in 2005. “I had won two majors in my lifetime. Not once in my life. I’m going to be able to make this comment, ‘Hey, you know who didn’t win an Open at 42? Bobby Jones won his first two majors in his twenties, and also won it when he was 42.’ ”
Just to clarify: Ernie Els was not considered a contender to break Mickelson’s record because he has not won the Open before he was 40. Some people have declared the relationship between age and number of majors won “anti-climatic,” but as a lifelong golf fan, it is important to note this. Mickelson is a two-time Masters champion and a six-time PGA Tour champion, and arguably his greatest achievement might be the medal he won at the 1993 British Open, which includes a silver medal for the lowest score among the top three finishers. When he was 22, Mickelson was trying to build the momentum of a Ryder Cup career when the competition came to Scotland, but he did not feel ready to make that last entry into the tournament. That is something that he dedicates his life to — honoring that “gorgeous little ball that always stopped in the fairway,” as John Daly once put it.
For two years, Mickelson skipped the PGA Tour’s year-end events to tend to a daughter and two sons. At 46, Mickelson, arguably the world’s best player, needed help.
Luckily, Mickelson had his old pal and golfing colleague, Jack Nicklaus, at his side. It did not matter to Nicklaus that Mickelson did not have his passport, because one of the greatest golfers of all time “flipped his phone over and picked up a working phone,” as Mickelson described it. “And I would receive the most incredible text messages from Jack saying, ‘What’s up?’ ‘Hey, I’m coming out to California.’” (Nicklaus flew in with his then-62-year-old buddy the morning of Mickelson’s playoff win over Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship.)
And if anyone knows how to deal with life in their early 50s, it is Mr. Nicklaus, the greatest golfer in history, and perhaps, as he’s said many times before, “one of the most smart people I’ve ever met.” “I think you hit that fountain of youth when you hit 40,” Mickelson says of golf, “and I hit it pretty good from 40 down.”
The fact that Mickelson has won more than two majors is the stuff of legend in itself. But the fact that, at age 43, he has claimed that elusive fifth championship may put him in the league of the greatest players ever to