But professional golf offers a career longevity like no other sport.
Never has that been more apparent than on the gusty shores of the Atlantic coast this last weekend, where Phil Mickelson, one month shy of his 51st birthday, produced one of the most remarkable stories in the history of golf, and even his glorious career.
Thirty years after his first victory on the PGA Tour, Mickelson won the PGA Championship for a second time, to claim a sixth major in total and a first for eight years.
Two years after Tiger Woods at the age of 43 hoisted himself off the operating table to win a fifth Masters title, old adversary Mickelson claimed arguably an even more improbable victory on the longest course in major championship history, and also one of its toughest.
Kiawah Island is a brute of a course, pockmarked by bunkers, sand dunes and water hazards and exposed to the gusting winds off the sea, it is up there among the ultimate tests in golf.
Yet it was mastered by a player who deserves to go down as one of the all-time greats. Mickelson’s place in golf history was already assured through his longevity and sheer amount of victories.
But this elevates him to a new pantheon, if anything for the bolt from the blue it was, one that reminded the sport of the old adage that form is temporary, class is permanent.
Golf was supposed to have moved into a new era of the nerveless collegiate product with ice in his veins winning the majors – think Jordan Spieth, Brooks Kopeka and Collin Morikawa – among others; of bludgeoning bombers who reach 575-yard par-fives with a driver and a wedge – hello Bryson DeChambeau.
But Mickelson, even at 50, showed that technique beats brawn.
In the final round on Sunday, who had the longest drive on the par-five 16th? Mickelson.
Granted, it was playing downwind and Mickelson had the adrenaline of competition coursing through his veins, but still. Time and again on that back nine, he outdrove Koepka, one of the longest hitters on tour.
‘Lefty’ has always been the most gifted of players around the green and he needed every touch of finesse to keep the lead he had built on Saturday and defended into Sunday.
He has also been the most popular player. No-one spends more time signing autographs after a round. No-one hands more golf balls to young fans in between holes. Even in the heat of battle on Sunday, he found time to give a disabled child a ball on the front nine. Seeing Mickelson emerge from the throng of jubilant fans after his approach to the 18th closed the door on Koepka was one of the images of a difficult year – a sporting great surrounded by returning fans.
This win gets him into the US Open for the next five years, still the one title missing from his now historic resume.
Whether his finest moment is still to come – and a US Open would eclipse even Kiawah Island – remains to be seen, but it will not be for the lack of effort.
“Working harder, that’s the deal,” said Mickelson when asked to explain his longevity. “I had to work harder physically to be able to practice as long as I wanted and I’ve had to work a lot harder to be able to maintain focus throughout a round. That’s been the biggest challenge.
“My desire to play is the same. I love competing, love playing the game. I just hope this serves as an inspiration to others.”
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