July 26, 2013 Douglas Han
Something is wrong with Phil Mickelson’s career.
A week of reflection after his Open Championship victory leaves one with a strange feeling. Objectively, his career record approaches and meets those of the all time greats. He is also the best interview in golf providing non-pat answers and showing intelligence, humor and appropriately timed frustration. But there is one thing the totals, statistics and sabermetricians cannot do: determine how we feel about a player and his career.
Mickelson does not feel like one of the greats. Numbers on a page and on the scorecard do not alone determine the greatness of a player. Although golf is an individual sport, the opposition counts.
The numbers are there. Phil Mickelson has established a career surpassed only by a handful of players in the history of golf. He is the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event back in 1991. He has an astounding forty-two PGA Tour victories and five major championships. Mickelson may ultimately win a career grand slam if he manages to finally win the U.S. Open, a tournament for which he has a record six second place finishes.
With his Open Championship victory, he even has a signature round finishing with an amazing four birdies in the last six holes – all while others wilted in the tough conditions. He grabbed the Open by the scruff of the neck and threw it in the trunk of his car. There are no asterisks: this victory was on historic Muirfield, a course that only permits players with Hall of Fame pedigree to tame its mane. Mickelson is now within the top 10 in career PGA Tour wins and from a modern standpoint (players born after World War I), behind only Nicklaus, Woods, Palmer, and Casper in career wins.
But something is missing.
Mickelson brings to mind another great athlete from an individual sport: Larry Holmes.