Mickelson and Langer – Piling up Statistics

Phil Mickelson and Bernhard Langer Still Winning, Setting Marks

I’ve been eating an awful lot of crow lately over Phil Mickelson. Honestly, I thought he was done. Most of us know that Monday, after horrible weather pushed the completion of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am into an extra day, Mickelson walked away with his fifth title in that tournament. He’s pushing 50, but 50 isn’t doing much pushing back. He’s leaving a trail of 65s all over the tour, and seems to be gaining momentum heading toward the only major that has eluded him – the U.S. Open. He’s won three Masters (’04, ’06, 2010), one PGA title (’05) and the Open in 2013. That’s just the beginning of some very admirable statistics.

Paul Casey thought he may have an opening, but it required an iron failure on Mickelson’s part, on the 18th. From 140 yards out, Phil hit to a few feet away, then sank the birdie putt, tying Mark O’Meara for the most wins in a single tournament for one career. In the eight decades of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in one form or other, Mickelson is the oldest to win it. The victory is his 44th on the PGA Tour, and the statistics go on and on. Mickelson finished the four days at minus 19, and the final round was a bogey-free 65.  He became only the fourth player to win on the Tour 28 or more years from the first win to the most recent (I don’t dare say “the last.”) Mickelson is rapidly catching up to Walter Hagen’s mark of 45 wins, although Billy Casper’s 51 wins may pose a more daunting task for the left-hander. Ever since the match with Tiger, Father Time and I have been left scratching our heads, and realizing that Mickelson’s future isn’t done yet.

Speaking of Father Time, I think know who he is. Either that, or the two have quite a deal going. In the Oasis Championship in Boca Raton this week, Gary Nicklaus made his debut. That means that Bernhard Langer, who won the tournament, has competed with both father and son.  These statistics aren’t just surprising – they are absurd. At the age of 61, Langer continues to win on the senior tour, and has now broken Hale Irwin’s career winnings record for the all-time money list. All tours combined, Langer has earned well over twenty-seven million. On Sunday, age was not a consideration, just another championship winning 65 in yet another bogey-free round. The Oasis marks his 39th tour championship, with Irwin’s mark of 45 still within reach. The oldest winner on the senior tour was Mike Fetchick, at the age of 63. I wouldn’t be surprised if that mark is in jeopardy as well. The media correctly reported that Langer “ran away” with the tournament on the final day. Many of us can barely walk at all after four consecutive days of play, figuratively or literally.
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Sitting around comparing the statistics battle between great players of past eras and the modern age falls well short of the whole story behind the people who play this game so magnificently. of course, we have to slow down eventually, but the acquisition of wisdom and emotional calm can keep the quality golf years flowing. I followed Gary Player around just a few years ago. Clearly, he wasn’t going to win any more Masters, but that game was so stable and surgical from decades upon decades of experience that the discipline was palpable throughout the day. We learn from these men and women that the body doesn’t require explosive abuse in order to play the game well. It can last and last, all the while absorbing the physical and mental benefits of the game. I have enough perspective to know that Nicklaus, Player and many others could still beat most of us with a 5-iron and a putter, suggesting that we should seek out the source of their game rather than moan about what we’ve lost through the years. 

While Langer and Mickelson roll along in their quest for more titles, I will recall that I have enjoyed the blessing of playing golf constantly, thousands of times, since childhood, Statistics like that are still my favorite, and my golf future isn’t done yet, either.

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