One for the aged: Is Mickelson’s victory at 50 sign of things to come in sports?
PHOENIX – As Missy Farr-Kaye watched her friend Phil Mickelson master the PGA Championship, the Arizona State women’s golf coach said what everyone was thinking: “He is a fountain of youth right now.”
The legendary lefty and Arizona State alumnus became the oldest golfer to win a major at 50, capturing the PGA Championship Sunday.
It was Mickelson’s sixth major win and first since 2013. With it, not only did he become the oldest golfer to ever win a major but he also joined a prestigious list of golfers to win a major in three different decades.
And it raised an interesting question: Is Mickelson’s success at 50 a sign of things to come for other athletes?
“There are a lot of advantages that accrue over time in sports,” said Jeff Bercovici, author of “Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age.” “You acquire a lot of knowledge, and a lot of skill and experience and maturity and emotional control; all these things that are advantages to any athlete. The thing is that you’re also acquiring a big disadvantage, which is that your body is getting older. You get slower, you get injured more easily. Historically, the disadvantages have accrued faster than the advantages.
“What we’ve seen, particularly over the last kind of 20ish years, is the science of particularly athletic training but also medicine, surgery, nutrition, recovery, has allowed athletes to slow down the rate at which their bodies age to the point that now we see what happens when the advantages, express themselves more fully than we’ve ever been able to see before.”
Mickelson knows all about the importance of nutrition and training as he changed his physique over the last few years through a fasting diet to improve his game.
“If you can have the body of a younger person but the mind of an older person you will dominate your sport,” Bercovici said.
Mickelson has the years of experience and wisdom under his belt but has managed to keep his young energy throughout his career, his brother and caddie Tim Mickelson said.
“He’s the same guy he was when he went to college as it relates to the enjoyment factor of playing golf and competing,” Tim Mickelson said. “He just loves to compete.”
After round three, former ASU golfer Jon Rahm raved about Mickelson’s career.
“One could say that five may not be enough to how good of a career he’s had, and I really hope he gets his record. I hope he gets his win,” Rahm said in a press conference. “I hope he gets to put that stamp in history that would not be beaten in a very long time.”
The last person to hold the record for oldest golfer to win a major was Julius Boros, who was 48 years old when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
Steve Loy, a former ASU golf coach who is Mickelson’s agent, was impressed with his performance and texted his former player the morning before the final round.
“It’s breathtaking,” Loy said. “I told him in a text this morning, I said, ‘Phil, I’m getting too old for this, but you aren’t. Let’s get it done.’”
Sunday’s win was not without competition as Mickelson had to hold off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen who were chasing him all day. As Mickelson and Koepka approached the 18th hole, Mickelson led by two strokes.
Then, as fans surrounded him, he shot par to solidify history.
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