All 50-year-old Phil Mickelson had to do to become the oldest golfer to win a major tournament was to work harder, he said Sunday.
"I work harder physically to be able to practice as long as I wanted to, and I've had to work a lot harder to be able to maintain focus throughout a round,” he said after winning the PGA Championship in Kiawah Island, South Carolina on May 23. “If I work a little harder, spend a little more time in the gym, eat well, practice hard — there's no reason why I can't put it all out there for 18 holes."
Putting it all out there was exactly what Mickelson did in an exciting game that had him battling competitor Brooks Koepka (two decades younger and 100 spots higher in the world rankings) especially fiercely while also edging out 38-year-old Louis Oosthuizen, who later tied Koepka for second place.
For Mickelson, the effort behind his history-making sixth major tourney (his first was the 2004 Masters Tournament at age 33) extends beyond going toe to toe on the front nine. While as late as 2019, golf critics were more likely to comment on his use of chewing gum to boost mental focus or his “everyman” physique than they were to chronicle any strenuous training regimen, Mickelson, who turns 51 next month, has more recently executed a major lifestyle reset.
As he has said, taking “accountability for my health” was the biggest shift, backed up by “getting educated and being honest” about his diet in particular. These days, he says he understands the dangers of inflammation-causing foods and too much sugar, and not only eats healthier day to day, but he also does regular, periodic fasts to “reset” his system. In addition, Mickelson works out beyond golf practice, which has been key to replacing his former dad bod with the much fitter one on display Sunday.
Mickelson, known as “Lefty” for his left-handed swing (he's normally right-handed), has long been a popular figure in the golf world with both fellow players and fans. Thousands were in the gallery to watch his win, and they exploded with joy at the final putt.
Some who weren't there took to Twitter to send their congrats. Among them was Tiger Woods, who wrote: “Truly inspirational to see @PhilMickelson do it again at 50 years of age. Congrats!!!!!!!”
And the legendary Jack Nicklaus, who won the Masters in 1986 at 46, wrote: “Hey Phil, 50 years old is older than 46. Congratulations, my friend.”
10 oldest golfers to win a major
Lorrie Lynch is an executive editor for AARP, covering health care, caregiving, Movies for Grownups, travel and other topics. Previously she was senior editor and columnist for USA Weekend magazine and a news editor for USA Today. She is the author of the journalism textbook, Exploring Journalism and the Media, which is used in high schools around the country.