Phil Mickelson's next chapter kicks off with a flurry of wins

·5 min read

This is borderline unfair. 

Phil Mickelson has played four Champions Tour events. He's now won three of them. Even by the standards of the 50-and-over tour, where the newest members are always the most skilled, this is quite the achievement from golf's reigning Troublemaking Uncle. 

The Champions Tour doesn't exactly carry the gravitas of the PGA Tour — Mickelson's win came at an event literally called "Furyk & Friends," like an old-school slap-n'-giggle golf show from the '70s. Even so, the reigning PGA Championship winner had to work this time around, holding off Miguel Angel Jiménez in the closing holes — the two were tied as late as the 14th — and claimed the win with an 18th-hole birdie. 

"It's a good start," Mickelson said of his Champions Tour arc. "I'm having fun, I'm having fun playing here. I'm enjoying being around the guys, I'm enjoying the golf courses, how I can be a little bit more aggressive and ... still recover. You do that on the regular Tour, you just get eaten alive, you just can't make those mistakes there and have a chance to compete and contend and win. So I like how you don't have to be perfect and I can get away with a shot or two here or there, so it makes it fun to play and play aggressive."

Over the past year-plus, Mickelson's Champions record ranks among the best to ever play the tour, for those who keep track of such things. He's played 12 total rounds and held at least a share of the lead in seven of them. Eleven of those rounds have been under par. And while Mickelson is as wayward as ever off the tee, his driving distance led the field last week. 

Mickelson is in a unique position now, old enough to play the Champions Tour but young enough (and fit enough) to be reasonably competitive every so often on the PGA Tour. His rivals on the PGA Tour won't be joining him on the Champions circuit any time soon — Collin Morikawa won't be eligible for the Champions Tour until 2047 — but Mickelson hopes that he'll be able to burnish the rep of the Champions Tour between now and then. 

"I think if I can play well in tournaments on the regular tour and compete and maybe win a time or two like at the PGA, and have some credibility when I come out here, I think that would be a good thing because it shows how high a level of performance goes on out here on the Champions Tour. If I can continue to stay up in the world rankings and compete in some regular tour events, when I do come out here, I hope to help out."

Mickelson's Champions Tour barnstorming is one more layer of paint on what's been a remarkable career reinvention. It's almost impossible to remember now that Mickelson once carried the dreaded "Best Never To Win A Major" cross into dozens of majors. He turned pro in 1992 but didn't win the Masters until 2004, a stretch of nearly 12 years. (For perspective: 12 years ago, Tiger Woods hadn't yet had his accident, Rory McIlroy hadn't yet won a PGA Tour event, and Bryson DeChambeau was still in high school.) 

Early on, Mickelson got saddled with a reputation as an underachiever, a tough label to throw on anyone playing in the era of Tiger Woods. But he's burned away every last shred of that — for one thing, he's won three majors to Woods' one over the last 12 years, and for another, he captured the PGA Championship earlier this year at the age of 50. He's still lacking that U.S. Open victory to complete the career Grand Slam, but at this point that's like faulting the Mona Lisa for not smiling enough. The artistry is clear, the legacy secure. 

What's fascinating now is the role that Mickelson is taking on with the next generation of players. He's an icon to them, sure, but he'll take advantage of a little hero worship to separate them from their money in his legendary pre-tournament matches. He's less of a father figure and more like the cool uncle who'll tell you the stories your parents won't, and maybe hook you up with a little beer if you promise to keep quiet. His social media feed is ad-heavy, of course, but punctuated with praise for, and jabs at, players two decades his junior. 

Mickelson is particularly close with fellow Arizona State alum Jon Rahm, and he's also happy to roast current stars like Justin Thomas. But he's now very much aware of his place in the golf firmament, at least talent-wise, and wisely took a vice-captain's role for last month's Ryder Cup rather than trying to force himself into the lineup. 

"I had a blast not having the pressure and the anxiety that you have as a player," Mickelson said last week. "I would have obviously loved to have been a player, but conversely, the experience of not having that kind of pressure was also very enjoyable."

Not a bad second act for Mickelson. And he hasn't even started his Ryder Cup captaincy phase yet. 

PONTE VEDRA BEACH - OCTOBER 10: Phil Mickelson gives thumbs up while walking off the 18th green during the final round of the PGA TOUR Champions Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS presented by Circle K at Timuquana Country Club on October 10, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)
PONTE VEDRA BEACH - OCTOBER 10: Phil Mickelson gives thumbs up while walking off the 18th green during the final round of the PGA TOUR Champions Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS presented by Circle K at Timuquana Country Club on October 10, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com. 

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