Ladies and gentlemen, it’s safe to say that we just witnessed one of the best weekends of golf we will ever see. At 50 years old and outside the top 110 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Phil Mickelson somehow won the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Lefty fended off challengers and his own demons, and in the end his famous thumb was raised high as he added a sixth major championship to his hall-of-fame résumé. It was simply incredible!
It never comes easy for Phil Mickelson. Starting Sunday at the PGA Championship with a one-shot lead over Brooks Koepka, Mickelson quickly suffered a two-shot swing on the opening hole. But just when it seemed that Phil was about to fall completely back to the field, he holed a bunker shot on No. 5, sending the crowd at the Ocean Course into a frenzy.
That birdie seemed to settle Mickelson down, and he played smart golf the rest of the way. Even with uncharacteristically poor approaches to Nos. 13, 14, and 17, he didn’t record anything worse than a bogey. Standing on the 18th tee, he had a two-shot advantage, and the tournament was his when his 9-iron approach found the putting surface. The crowd swarmed, and Phil made his way to the green, dodging excited fans and confused media members. Minutes later, the Wanamaker Trophy was his.
To call this win a surprise would be an understatement. Mickelson’s recent play on the PGA Tour has ranged from mediocre to abysmal. In his last 17 starts, he’s had zero top 20s, seven missed cuts, and seven finishes of T-44 or worse. He entered the week 176th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, the skill most prized at the Ocean Course. But this week, Phil was a different man. He “drove the ball like a stallion” and flushed his irons like it was 2006. He led the field in SG: Tee-to-Green.
Let’s forget (for a second) the off-course antics. Let’s forget (for a fraction of a second) the rumored dalliances with prospective Saudi-funded golf leagues. What we saw this week was amazing. A man who has made three starts on the senior tour in the past year became the oldest player ever to win a major championship, staring down the current generation’s apex predator in the process. For four days, Phil Mickelson overcame all of his well-documented weaknesses, and he put on one of the best shows we’ve seen since we started this newsletter.
It may end up being his final show. Or not.
“This might be my last win,” he said afterwards. “But I also might go on a bit of a run.”
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Phil Mickelson had his yardages dialed this week, often reassured by his rangefinder, which, for the first time in major championship history, he was allowed to use during tournament play.
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Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen didn’t have their best stuff on Sunday, and both fell two shots short of Mickelson. Oosthuizen tried to make a last-minute run, narrowly missing an eagle putt on the 16th hole that would have gotten him within a shot. As for Koepka, he’ll remember the final round of the PGA Championship as a day of missed opportunities on the long holes. Whereas he entered the final round with a 4.25 scoring average on the par 5s at the Ocean Course, he went 7-6-6-4 on them on Sunday. His birdie on 16 got him within shouting distance, but it was too late by then.
While Oosthuizen will certainly be disappointed to notch his fifth (fifth!) runner-up at a major championship, it’s Koepka who has to feel like he let this one slip away. Paired with Phil in the final group, Brooks just didn’t have it. Yes, he was visibly tentative about bending his right knee, which was operated on in March, but he didn’t have much trouble mashing drives down the middle. Instead, he lost strokes to the field on approach, around the greens, and putting on Sunday. Clearly, though, the four-time major champion has a lot of fight left in him. You can never count out Brooks Koepka at golf’s biggest tournaments.
Other PGA Championship notes
The setup wasn’t as varied as it could have been day to day at the Ocean Course, but Kerry Haigh and the PGA crew put on a phenomenal event. The golf course rewarded great play and punished marginal shots, exactly as you’d want a major venue to do.
Korn Ferry Tour member and top-30 OWGR player Will Zalatoris continues to impress at major championships. The 24 year old fired a Sunday 70 to jump to T-8, his third straight major top 10. Still not eligible for the FedEx Cup Playoffs, though.
European Tour Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington earned his first PGA Tour top 10 since the 2016 Tournament of Champions… at the freaking PGA Championship. He shot 69 on Sunday and finished T-4. Unbelievable stuff from Paddy.
Playing in the first major of his career, Harry Higgs shot 72-71-73-70 to finish T-4. By placing in the top four, Higgs earned an invitation to his first Masters next spring as well as a spot in the 2022 PGA Championship.
Abraham Ancer shot 65 on Sunday to jump from outside the top 50 at the PGA Championship into the top 10, assuring him a return trip in 2022.
Playing on a special exemption, Rickie Fowler finished T-8 for his 12th career major top 10. Unfortunately for Fowler, his bogey on the 72nd hole cost him an exemption into the U.S. Open and an invitation to the ’22 Masters.
Over the next couple of days, every golf writer you know will likely take a stab at capturing the magic of this PGA Championship. A few have already gotten started. We loved this Saturday-night column from Kyle Porter as well as this reflection on age and cunning from literary master (definitely not “acerbic one-liner writer”!) Eamon Lynch.
Wei-Ling Hsu outlasted Moriya Jutanugarn and Jessica Korda to win the Pure Silk Championship. It was Hsu’s first LPGA Tour title. Leaderboard
Cameron Young held off a host of chasers on Sunday to win the AdventHealth Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour. After opening the event with 64, Young shot 69-68-68 to win by two strokes. Results
Rachel Heck is dominating the individual portion of the women’s NCAA Championship, leading Stanford to the top position in the team competition.
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Shotgun Start: Walking with Phil Mickelson for Sunday’s PGA Championship win
It’s the end of a long week in Kiawah, but Andy and Brendan record their last episode from the 2021 PGA Championship after an exhilarating day at the Ocean Course. Andy abstains from arguing for Ernie but there is some evidence later offered for potential asterisks next to this win. They relay what it was like out there in the crowd, walking and watching both Phil and Brooks in the final pairing. They assess Phil’s win in the larger context of his career achievements and golf history. They relay what each found most impressive about the day and his win, from the distance control and penetrating shotmaking to some of what felt like gamesmanship setting the terms with Brooksy. They get into the crowd, which treated Brooksy like a club pro and then broke through the ropes for an 18th hole scene that will go down in history. There’s some more Ben Cook takes, Louis laments, and praise for the course as a cog in a major championship rota. Thanks to all for the support all week. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.