At the age of 50, Mickelson on track to become golf’s oldest major winner

As Phil Mickelson climbed a small hill to step onto the final green of his second round at the US PGA Championship on Saturday (AEST), a shout from the crowd rose above the growing applause: “You’re not old, Phil.”

Mickelson, who will turn 51 next month, smiled and flashed a thumbs up. Minutes later, when he sank a seven-metre birdie putt that put him near the top of the leaderboard, he boyishly bounded off the green, offering a thumbs up in every direction.

Phil Mickelson launches a drive on his way to the lead of the US PGA Championship.Credit:Getty

Harrington, who was one over for the tournament after the second round and still in the title hunt, was asked if he had an appreciation for what Mickelson was trying to do at an age when many golfers have opted for the game’s senior tour.

Harrington, who has always had a way of channeling his inner Irish poet, smiled as he replied: “Unfortunately, as you gain experience, you lose innocence.

“There is a sweet spot on the way up when you’re gaining a bit of experience and yet you have that innocence. As you get older, yeah, we have experience, but we have some scar tissue in there.”

The consequence?

The five oldest major winners

  • Julius Boros (PGA Championship, 1968), 48 years 4 months 18 days
  • Tom Morris snr (The Open Championship, 1867, 46 years 3 months 10 days
  • Jack Nicklaus (Masters, 1986), 46 years 2 months 23 days
  • Jerry Barber (PGA Championship, 1961) 45 years 3 months 6 days
  • Hale Irwin (US Open, 1990) 45 years 14 days

“We can overthink things,” Harrington said.

For all of Mickelson’s many talents – he got his 44th PGA Tour victory two years ago – he has rarely been able to avoid the ruinous trap of overanalysing his own game.

Consider the past few weeks, when Mickelson missed the cut at the tour’s Valspar Championship, one of nine tournaments this season in which he has failed to contend for the title.

“As I’ve gotten older, I have a hard time focusing,” Mickelson said. “And that’s my challenge right now. I’m trying all different things to be able to elongate my ability to stay focused, or to refocus.”

Cameron Smith is the best-placed Australian heading into moving day at South Carolina.Credit:Getty

After Saturday’s round, Mickelson revealed his new plan for sharper concentration.

“I might try to play 36 or 45 holes in a day and try to focus on each shot, so that when I go out and play 18, it doesn’t feel like it’s that much,” he said.

Mickelson, who is always tinkering, mentioned other tactics.

“I might try to elongate the time that I end up meditating, but I’m trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it,” he said.

Twenty minutes after his round was over, the excitement of the moment had not diminished.

“To know I’m playing well heading into the weekend, to be in contention, to have a good opportunity,” he said. “I’m having a blast.”

Throughout the second round, there was considerable movement on the leaderboard. The first-round leader, Corey Conners, bogeyed five of his first six holes and stumbled to a three-over-par 75. Will Zalatoris, the tour rookie who has ascended to 30th in the world rankings, slumped with a 74 after shooting a one-under 71 in the first round. Jon Rahm, ranked third in the world, shot a frustrating 75 to fall to three over for the tournament. Justin Rose, another pre-event favourite, matched Rahm’s 75 and was also at three over.

The Australians struggled in the tough conditions. Queenslander Cameron Smith is the best of them at one over par in equal 25th after rounds of 72 and 73. Six Australians made the cut at five over, but big names Adam Scott and Marc Leishman won’t play on the weekend after missing the number by one shot.

The New York Times

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