Disclaimer* The following is written by a thirty year old still capable of having a pint without a hangover and sleeping through the night without needing to use the toilet
For anyone who’s been following the social media antics of Phil Mickelson over the past year or so, his victory this week on his over-50’s Champions Tour debut would hardly have been surprising.
Obsessed with cultivating his calves and hitting bombs, the five-time Major winner took to the wide resort fairways of Ozark National off forward tees and let fly, equalling the Tour’s 54-hole scoring record, 191, on his way to a four-shot win.
It got me thinking, is Mickelson too young to be playing Senior Tour golf? Summoning my inner Carrie Bradshaw, I wonder, is 60 the new 50?
As the great Tommy Tiernan preached in a superb skit on The Late Late Show in 2017, ‘we’re not supposed to live forever… if I was in charge of the health service, that would be its motto’.
Tiernan joked about the arrogance of old people, 105-year olds waltzing into A&E asking ‘is there anything you can do for me?’
And it’s true, we’re all living longer. Too long, if you were to ask our poor planet.
According to a World Health Organisation Report in 2018, for the first time in history, most people can expect to live into their sixties and beyond. By 2050, the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to total 2 billion, up from 900 million in 2015.
Which is all well and good, until Phil Mickelson drives all the par-4s on the Champions Tour and wins by a hatful.
Yes, the relentlessness of human evolution has by consequence, extended the lifespan of a professional golfer. It has taken their prime years and ballooned them significantly and if you were to believe Bryson DeChambeau, immortality is now within reach.
And before some old timer pipes up from their rocking chair and tells me about Bob Fossil III who went around the Old Course aged 114 in 112 strokes, I’m not talking about age defying anomalies like Gary Player, Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson who continue to break their lofty years in strokes on the regular. I’m saying that Mickelson could be about to spearhead a new generation of athletes storming Senior Tour fairways scarcely prepared for the invasion.
And it’s an issue; Tiger Woods reckons there’s no reason why Phil shouldn’t win every week on the Tour.
“His wedge game is off the charts, as we all know, and getting every wedge in there he’s going to put it inside of 10, 15 feet each and every time, hole those, get momentum and keeps it going, there’s no reason why he can’t win every event he plays out there,” Woods said. “He’s got such a big advantage over the rest of the field just with sheer length.”
And it’s not like Mickelson is just out there playing his mates for a Christmas ham. Instead he collected a winner’s cheque worth $450,000, only $200,000 or so shy of what he earned for coming second at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude, and after a day’s less work.
It’s a snapshot into the future of over-50’s golf – young swingers like Mickelson waltzing onto Senior Tour fairways, testosterone akimbo, forgoing the need for rigorous pre-round warm-up routines like everyone’s favourite palates instructor, Miguel Angel Jimenez.
But of course, it’s not just modern medicine that’s to blame here. It’s modern equipment too.
Don’t believe me? Listen to Paul McGinley – he’s on the telly after all – discussing his opening tee shot at our Irish Golfer Shootout at the Palmer Course at the K Club in July where I was on hand to watch him emasculate the two young lads he was playing with at the ripe old age of 53.
“The funny thing about that tee shot was that I’m 53-years old now and obviously not the player that I used to be but with modern technology, I hit a good drive down there, I was about seven yards short of the ditch,” he recalled.
“In 2006 when all the emotion of Darren Clarke stood on that tee [at the Ryder Cup], he hit a drive down there that was forty yards past where everyone else hit it and everybody said ‘oh my god, he nearly hit it in the ditch’ and it just shows you that here’s me at 53 nearly hitting it in the same ditch with no wind assist. If ever there was an example of how much technology has made a difference, that was it.”
So there you have it. All this talk about DeChambeau et al rendering classic designs obsolete on the PGA Tour and here’s Mickelson, the schoolyard bully, stealing the lunch money that is the retirement plan of golf’s chosen few on the Champions Tour and hardly an eyebrow shifting.
So I ask you, is it time the senior establishment steps in to raise the age of eligibility to combat the likes of Mickelson breaking through, in turn protecting the pockets of its pensioners ?… I mean players.
For what it’s worth, prize money record-holder Bernhard Langer is approaching $30 million in career earnings on the Champions Tour. Mickelson’s already matched one record with his 22-under par 191 three-round total on debut. If nothing changes in the meantime, what odds would you give me on him matching Langer’s mountain of cash in Senior Tour earnings in ten years’ time, too?
*Full disclosure… Hangovers hit me harder than ever, and I was up for a wee in the middle of the night, not once, but twice last night. Do folks sleep at all past 50?