Filed under Things I Never Thought I’d See In My Lifetime: Phil Mickelson has captured the [British] Open Championship.
Really? The guy who hits it a mile high with more spin than a brand new dryer? The same guy who never met a risk he didn’t take on the golf course? The same guy who Paul Azinger once called, “[Possibly] the worst short putter among the great players in the history of golf?”
Well, I’d better get to updating my list of the greatest golfers of all time, then. Phil has five majors now and ¾ of the career grand slam. He also has a record 6 runner-ups in the US Open, now the only major championship that eludes him. Previously Phil was tied on the major championship leaderboard with contemporary Ernie Els, Raymond Floyd, Jim Barnes, Bobby Locke, Wille Anderson, Willie Park, Sr and the Tom Morris’, both Old and Young. Now he’s made it a Party of Five [majors] joining JH Taylor and James Braid, 2/3 of the “Great Triumvirate”, as well as Byron Nelson and Seve Ballesteros. That puts Phil in a tie for 14th on the All-Time Major Championship Leaderboard.
But he isn’t the 14th best golfer of all time, or tied for the 14th best golfer of all time. There are more things to consider than simply how many majors a player won, although it carries the most weight. It’s a total picture, not just numbers.
After his victory, Mickelson talked about having a complete game with his win at The Open. It’s hard to argue with that. That is the reason why I have him as high as I do my all-time leaderboard. Criteria that I measure on this leaderboard includes the following: number of majors won, record against other leading players of the same era, total number of victories, total number of top 10s in majors. This is far from scientific. It’s sort of a look at the greatest players of all time, thinking about their accomplishments and arranging things from there. The ONLY name on this list that I care to discuss in this piece is Mickelson. I would be happy to debate the other names some other time, but for now it’s a look at Phil’s place in the history of the game.
- Jack Nicklaus – not up for debate
- Tiger Woods – not up for debate
- Bobby Jones – also not up for debate
- Ben Hogan – again, not up for debate
- Walter Hagen – a little debate
- Gary Player – also a little debate
- Sam Snead – perhaps more debate
- Gene Sarazen – I will listen
- Tom Watson – I will listen to this as well
- Arnold Palmer – I can’t help but listen, because you’re screaming at me
- Phil Mickelson – clearly where he belongs, explanation coming
- Harry Vardon – it’s all about the time period
- Byron Nelson – longevity is an issue
- Lee Trevino – You can’t really argue this
- Nick Faldo – Gets the edge over contemporary Seve by 1 green jacket
- Seve Ballesteros – Most artistic player ever, didn’t fit the US Open or PGA
Again, we can talk some other time about the greatest players of all-time at a later date. Right now is Phil’s time. Dive in with me…
Looking at the aforementioned criteria for my list, Phil’s record looks like this:
- Majors: 5 (3 different events)
- Place in his era: 2nd behind Tiger, ahead of Els
- 42 career PGA TOUR wins including a Players and WGC
- 35 major top 10s in 20 years as a pro.
It’s quite simple. I really wanted to put Phil in the top 10. But you can’t put him above Arnold Palmer’s 7 majors and 62 wins, or Sam Snead’s 82 wins, or the career grand slam of Gene Sarazen. Although I do think Mickelson’s talent is on par if not better than Palmer and Sarazen, and he has more career wins than Sarazen, but “The Squire” was the first and is one of five men to complete the career grand slam (of professional golf).
Mickelson gets the edge over Harry Vardon because of the era he plays in. It’s the same reason he is well above James Braid and JH Taylor, also five-time major winners who were, with Vardon, known as “The Great Triumvirate” at the turn of the 20th century. Braid never played in the US Open and Taylor only played once, in 1900, finishing second to Harry Vardon with whom he was touring the US playing exhibitions. While there was no Masters or PGA Championship, the field of professionals was not even close to being as deep as it is today. Additionally, The Great Triumvirate played mostly links golf, so the completeness of game Mickelson possesses was not true for them.
Where does Phil go from here? I see him as having two more milestones to hit before he retires, either at age 50, or whenever he feels he cannot compete. The first is 50 career wins and he would be the 8th player to do it. The second is the most obvious, a US Open victory and completion of the career grand slam. If Mickelson can win that elusive US Open he becomes probably 6th or 7th all time. If he can get to 50 wins, he’s pushing the top 5.
Phil will also continue to compete at Augusta each year, but winning another green jacket won’t change his legacy as much as this Open victory and a potential US Open victory will.