Perhaps the most surprised person in the field as to who won the Open Championship on Sunday was none other than the “champion golfer of the year” himself, Phil Mickelson.
As strange as it may seem that someone who has made a living turning golf courses into his own paint canvases, it took until 2004 for him to be comfortable with the ground game to compete on links courses when he finished third at Troon to Todd Hamilton.
Mickelson likes to play in the air. He likes to shape his shots and he will play any shot from any lie.
That is the mentality that has cost him so dearly at the United States Open.
However, you would have thought that his creativity would have been an asset over the years at the Open Championship.
It took him until he was 43 years old to match his game to the “old” game.
In a nutshell, here are the four reasons Lefty won his fifth major.
Mickelson needed 54-hole leader Lee Westwood to falter and Westwood responded with a 4-over 75. Westwood failed to hit a fairway on the front nine and relied on his putter too often to save par. If Westwood shoots even-par, then Mickelson would have forced a four-hole playoff.
Like Ernie Els last year taking full advantage of Adam Scott’s meltdown over the closing four holes to claim his second Claret Jug, Mickelson’s 5-under 66 was good enough to stand when everyone else faltered.
He Adapted His Game
By leaving the driver out of the bag this week, Mickelson made a conscious decision in how he planned to construct a round at Muirfield. He realized he had to put the ball in play, get on the greens and make putts.
Because he was able to save some of that mental wear-and-tear by not having to grind to save bogey a few times, he was able to pull out his magician’s wand on Sunday when he really needed to, including his miraculous par-saving putt on No. 16.
Mickelson learning to be more conservative won him this major.
Jim “Bones” Mackay
Never has a player-caddie relationship been as important as what we saw Sunday.
Jim “Bones” Mackay pulled all the right strings for Mickelson this week and was more emotional after the fact than Phil.
Like Stevie Williams was to Tiger Woods —- and now to Adam Scott — Mackay is so much more than a caddie to his friend: He is part-coach and head cheerleader as well. When he speaks, Phil listens.
Sunday was just as important to him as it was to Mickelson.
At some point in the last few years, probably in 2009, Mickelson’s focus changed from being the best golfer on the planet to being the strongest person in his family.
When his wife Amy and mother were almost simultaneously diagnosed with breast cancer, Mickelson curtailed his schedule.
As he learned to embrace the balance between champion golfer and father, he seemed to relax more on the course, taking the extra time to let the fans and the surroundings pump up his energy levels.
For someone who seemed so openly devastated after finishing second for the sixth time at the U.S. Open at Merion a month ago, he rebounded by taking his family on a summer holiday to Scotland and scored two trophies along the way.
As much of a pleasant surprise winning the Claret Jug was for Mickelson, the biggest pleasure of the week was sharing that win with those he holds closest to him.
That in itself is a great story for the “champion golfer of the year.”