Lynch: Phil Mickelson doesn't really want to play with the old guys, but needs them more than he’ll admit
It seemed appropriate on a day when two fellow competitors at the Northern Trust shot scores uncomfortably close to his age that Phil (...)
It seemed appropriate on a day when two fellow competitors at the Northern Trust shot scores uncomfortably close to his age that Phil Mickelson announced his plan to debut on the PGA Tour Champions.
Scottie Scheffler’s Friday-morning 59 briefly appeared like it wouldn’t even be low round of the day until Dustin Johnson flatlined his way to a 60 in the afternoon. Like Roger Bannister’s 4-minute-mile, the ’60’ barrier seems to fall now with the frequency of a one-legged drunk on an ice rink, and those low rounds by Scheffler and Johnson might have reminded Mickelson that the days when he can hang with that kind of firepower are fewer and farther between.
A missed cut at TPC Boston eliminated Mickelson from the FedEx Cup Playoffs, so he will join the silver-haired circuit on Monday at the Charles Schwab Series in Missouri. That the five-time major winner — who turned 50 in June — opted to tee it with the seniors only when there were no PGA Tour options before him doesn’t suggest he views the Champions Tour as being a significant part of his future, but Mickelson is certainly a significant part of the future of the Champions Tour.
His presence in Missouri will boost the profile of a circuit that, for all of the fine players peddling their wares out there, thrives most when legends come along. Legends aren’t real plentiful, of course, especially among the generation now graduating to the Champions Tour that had their résumés impoverished by Tiger Woods. Mickelson says he’ll play only a few senior events each year, a listless embrace similar to that of Greg Norman and Nick Faldo, but better than Johnny Miller’s no-show.
The PGA Tour Champions needs more, because the next superstar in its queue doesn’t turn 50 until December of 2025, and a man with young kids, a healthy portfolio and an unhealthy body isn’t a good bet to be pegging it against a 68-year-old Bernhard Langer every week.
It also deserves more. Sure, it may be littered with guys who couldn’t get your pulse racing if they were clapping you with a defibrillator, but the Champions Tour still brings big-time golf to small-town America and permits Cinderella stories worth rooting for. Exhibit ‘A’: Scott Parel.
Fortuitously, Mickelson’s debut comes at the first-ever Champions Tour event played Monday through Wednesday. A strong performance by the popular showman during a broadcast window that is otherwise uncontested might encourage the Tour to adopt that opportunistic schedule in future, and would certainly represent the lone positive amid the COVID-induced chaos on the golf calendar. Mickelson need not win for the week to be a victory for the Tour.
It’s no rap to say the PGA Tour Champions won’t offer Mickelson the elixir he desires. He’s a proud man who would much rather compete against young stallions than old warhorses who are one stumble shy of the glue factory.
That’s been true of most players who’ve aged out of relevance on the regular Tour. But recent results suggest Mickelson’s best prospect of being competitive on a regular basis lies with the old dudes. His T-2 finish at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational was one of just three top 20s in the past 18 months since he won at Pebble Beach. Only a fool would bet against Mickelson winning a 45th PGA Tour title, but the confidence needed for that might first have to be mined among the Steve Strickers, Colin Montgomeries and Jerry Kellys.
Phil is a man with a thirst to be relevant. That explains not just his nebulous flirtation with the TV booth but also with the proposed Premier Golf League splinter tour, both of which promise — at wildly differing scales — pay days based on name recognition rather than on performance. That might be the “champions tour” he ultimately dreams of.
Until such times as the Saudis come calling with a wheelbarrow full of blood money, Mickelson will probably learn the same lesson as many legends who went before him: that while the PGA Tour Champions isn’t the big stage he’s accustomed to, it’s still a very competitive arena. Take Herr Langer. The German turns 63 on Thursday. He finished second last week. Beating him might deliver all the confidence Mickelson will need this side of Winged Foot.