Mickelson savors his ‘greatest day’
(CNN) — They were tears of pride, of relief, but most of all, tears that marked the end of Phil Mickelson’s 22-year battle to conquer the greatest test in the game of golf.
The wind, the weather, the firm ground, the prohibitive rough — all components of nature that make links golf one of the biggest challenges to any player.
Until the final Sunday of the 142nd British Open at Muirfield, Mickelson didn’t know if he had in his locker all the elements to suppress Scotland’s elements.
But the emphatic answer came in a frenzied final few hours of the championship, a blizzard of birdies propelling ‘Lefty’ towards his fifth major title, and the sweetest of his career to date.
Surging through the field with four birdies in the final six holes he cast aside the likes of 14-time major winner Tiger Woods and Masters champion Adam Scott to conclude a journey that began on the links of Lancashire in England back in 1991.
At the 20th time of asking, the British Open crown was his.
“Winning this Open Championship — the tournament that has been the most elusive and the most difficult for me to play my best in — is probably the greatest accomplishment of my career,” he told CNN World Sport.
“It’s special to be part of the Championship, to be on the Claret Jug, to have won this tournament. Muirfield is a special golf course, a very demanding test, but all Open courses are demanding.
“Any win here is special because the links style of golf is so unique and to finally break through and conquer links golf is a great accomplishment for me and my career.”
Resilience has been a steadfast theme in Mickelson’s make up throughout his time as a professional.
Just five Sundays ago Mickelson suffered the heartbreak of yet another second-placed finish in the only major championship that continues to elude him — the U.S. Open.
It was the sixth time he’d finished runner-up in the tournament and he left the viciously difficult Merion course distraught that England’s Justin Rose had beaten him by one shot.
But after stewing on yet another near miss for a few days, he resolved to work even harder on his game, the fruits of which poured forth on the course beside the Firth of Forth.
“Part of golf is dealing with failure, dealing with losing,” he explained moments after conducting his first press conference as British Open champion.
“The U.S. Open was a very difficult loss for me because it was a tournament that I’ve wanted to win so badly throughout my career. I’ve come so close and to let it slide at Merion was a huge disappointment.
“But after a few days of sulking I was able to reassess and see that I was playing some of the best golf of my career and that I didn’t want to let a tournament that got away affect these future events.
“I used it as a motivating factor to work a little harder and get ready for these upcoming majors.”
It was a sensational final half dozen holes that catapulted Mickelson into the lead, a run that none of the other contenders could match.
By the time he reached the 17th the 43-year-old knew the championship was in his sights and two shots he described as “screaming bullets” helped him land a fatal blow on his rivals.
Playing at 575 yards, and into the wind, Mickelson struck two perfect three woods, to roll his second onto the green, take two putts for a regulation birdie putt and clasp one hand on the Claret Jug.
“I’ve been playing some of my best golf these last few months, striking the ball better than I ever have,” he added.
“But there are two areas of my game that have really changed. One is putting — you saw today — I’m putting the best I’ve ever putted in my career, I’m making everything.
“The second is driving the ball off the tee. I have a club now — a three wood — I hit long and I hit it straight.
“On 17 I hit two three woods where not many people are getting there in two — these screaming bullets down the middle of the fairway when I had to hit the fairway — then onto the green for an easy two-putt birdie.
“It’s what won me this British Open and it’s what’s giving me a chance to compete and contend in these big events now because I’m able to get the ball on the fairway without any of the problems I’ve had in the past.”
After another birdie on the final hole, the emotion that Mickelson had been wrestling with in the closing stages poured out, as he embraced long-time caddy Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay.
And he paid tribute to the team around him, and his family, after a triumph that enshrines his name amidst 142 years of Open history.
“I’m really lucky to have such special people in my life,” he said.
“Bones is Bones, he’s the best at what he does and to have him my entire career, I’m so lucky.
“And then to have a life partner like Amy and to have three healthy children, to have those people in my life makes moments like this even more fulfilling to be able to share it with them.”
By Chris Murphy