In golf, fame can be fleeting. A hot putter cools down. An injury sidelines. Just maintaining a place on the PGA TOUR can be a challenge in itself, much less having the chops to qualify for the majors year after year after year.
This week, at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, two legendary, yet, very relevant golfers will be celebrating the century mark. Both four-time major champion Ernie Els and five-time major champion Phil Mickelson will be competing in their 100th major championship event, at the ripe old age of 47.
Whatever you do, don’t count them out. These guys have skills and staying power.
Close Encounters of the Golf Kind—For 30-plus Years
Ironically, Els and Mickelson had their first competitive encounter way back in 1984, when both were competing in the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego. Els had made his first trek from South Africa to the United States and went on to beat Mickelson, the hometown favorite, for the title.
“I remember that final round. I remember that shot you (Els) hit on number 3. It was a par 5, and you had it about 30 yards short of the green and you hit this little skipping, spinning wedge shot that checked up about a foot from the hole,” Mickelson said. “I knew you were going to be a good player because I had not seen anybody else hit that shot.”
In some ways, it seems like yesterday. But, in their wildest dreams, neither Els nor Mickelson could have predicted how far they both have come. Only 12 other golfing legends, topped by the great Jack Nicklaus, have made it to the century mark.
“Those (the other 12 on the 100 major list) are all our mentors, our heroes,” Els said. “To go back to 1984 and where we are today in 2017, to look at that list, I think it will take a while to sink in. But, it’s pretty cool.”
Mickelson was equally awed by his upcoming landmark moment—sure to be one of many more to come.
“Playing major championships is what we dream about as kids. Every time I play in one, I remember back when I was a kid, competing in my yard against the greats, trying to beat them for major titles,” Mickelson said. “We’ve both been fortunate enough to have won some. I know we both want to win a couple more.”
Mutual Respect—On and Off the Course
In golf and in life, time passes a little faster than any of us are ready for. That includes champions like Mickelson and Els.
“It just goes by so fast, you don’t think about it,” Mickelson said. “We get to play golf, what most people do on vacation, as our job, and it’s the greatest job in the world.”
Yet, with age, comes perspective. What each of these two dynamic players admire about the other transcends golf. It’s more about heart.
“I think his fighting spirit speaks for itself,” Els said. “He’s a pretty good guy and, you know, a hell of a golfer.”
Mickelson admires Els most for what he’s done with the platform he’s been afforded as a champion golfer. He’s made a difference.
“I think about what he’s done for Els for Autism. I think that’s the legacy he’s leaving; where he’s impacting a lot of lives of people who go through autism. His facility is just astounding. I think that’s kind of the legacy that I see when I think of Ernie Els.”
Competing and Winning—in a Fickle, Fickle Game
Anyone who plays golf knows the absolute truth: no matter how talented you are or how hard you practice, once you’re on the course, not everything is going to go your way. Even if you’re a PGA TOUR pro.
So, how does a player avoid putting too much pressure on himself, yet feel enough urgency to be a strong competitor in a very talented field?
That’s where the all-important mental game kicks in.
“You‘re going to have some that are going to fall away, but if you keep putting yourself in there, you’re going to win your fair share,” Els said. “You just have to keep grinding and almost not think about how many (major championships) you want to win. Just go out there and put yourself in position. “
Congratulations and good luck to Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. We look forward to seeing you both in contention this weekend, and in many more majors to come.