On Sunday afternoon, about 30 minutes after Phil Mickelson accepted the Claret Jug from the R&A upon winning the 2013 British Open Championship at Muirfield, I starting penning my weekly congratulatory letter to the latest winner on the professional golfing circuit. It’s a PGA of America tradition; the President sends a note to the winners on behalf of our association.
This particular letter was easy to write. Mickelson’s emotional victory was arguably the best of his career, if not the most unlikely. When someone suggested to me last week that Phil might win the British Open, I scoffed and said, “Are you kidding? What are the odds? He just won the Scottish Open and you think this guy, who never plays well on links courses, will do it twice in a row? No way.”
I would even go as far to say that the last two weeks have been the best of Lefty’s professional golf career. Give the guy credit. He went to Scotland, put himself out there, and worked hard to adapt his game to true links golf. He had the fortitude to do this after yet another heartbreak less than a month ago at the U.S. Open. Make no mistake, behind that patented Mickelson smile is a solid wall of toughness.
He won the Open Championship with the same style and flair that Jack Nicklaus used to capture the 1987 Masters. Mickelson bolted out of the pack somewhere in the middle of the round. He was five shots back heading into Sunday and was listed at 20 to 1 by the British bookies. He overcame some bad luck on the 16th hole. Then he hit two gargantuan shots into the par-five 17th hole and converted a two-putt birdie.
Even when he went to the tee at the 18th and flashed a confident smile, there was still doubt as to whether Phil could finish it off. Remember Winged Foot? Could he avoid a mishap in a fairway bunker? He did that and more. When he rolled in the birdie putt on final green, it was over. Sure, there were groups left on the course, but they would be like late callers at their own wake when they arrived to Muirfield’s 18th green. This championship was dead and buried.