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John Duggan: Genius of Phil Mi...
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John Duggan: Genius of Phil Mickelson is timeless

John Duggan writes that by winning the PGA Championship at the age of fifty, Phil Mickelson showed that time can be conquered, momentarily.

I had a teacher in secondary school, in first class, back in 1991. One comment he made always stuck with me. I can't remember the context, but I do remember the words: "Time is our greatest enemy."

When you are young, to paraphrase Tom Waits, all you have is time. You have nothing but time. When you get older, time becomes a more valuable commodity. As you age, you realise that life is actually short and that time must be savoured. Every minute of every day is precious. I am in my forties now and I am mindful that it's important to eat better and keep fit and practise care of body and mind in between all the moments of craic and quality time spent with loved ones.

It was also in 1991 that left-handed American golfer Phil Mickelson won the Northern Telecom Open as a 20-year-old amateur and he played in the Walker Cup at Portmarnock that year. The California native had won the US Amateur the year before and was destined for greatness. However, it would take him 13 years to win his first major championship. Mickelson had to wait for his time. He won 22 times on the PGA Tour before his putt disappeared on the 18th green at the 2004 Masters.

Mickelson didn't win a major for so long for two reasons in my opinion. The first reason is one he could do nothing about - Tiger Woods. The second was that he was a stubborn golfer, an aggressive gung-ho player who wouldn't play conservatively in majors when the situation demanded it. Mickelson learned the hard way before winning that first major at Augusta.

He's always been a highly intelligent man with beautiful hands - it just took him longer to figure it out than it should have. The 2005 US PGA Championship and 2006 Masters were seized before bad habits resurfaced as he made a mess of his drive on the 72nd hole at the 2006 US Open. A double-bogey ensued at Winged Foot when a par would have won him the major that continues to elude him to this day. He has finished second or tied for second six times at the US Open. It's probably not meant to be when it comes to that particular major.

Mickelson adapted after the Winged Foot meltdown, beginning to work with swing-guru Butch Harmon, a partnership which delivered the Players Championship and the 2010 Masters. I always felt his crowning glory until now was his triumph at Muirfield in the 2013 Open Championship. To end as the only player under par and win by three shots on one of the great links courses was testament to Mickelson's intellect to learn how to play the game a different way. His approach was rooted in high ball hitting on American target golf courses, so he had to completely change and perfect new shots in the wind.

I have followed Phil closely for a quarter of a century. I love the way he plays golf and he was the subject of many a wayward wager from my wallet before he came good. He achieved two feats I never believed he would; win the Open Championship on a links course - and surpass that victory at Muirfield.

The common theme in all of this is agility and work ethic. Mickelson has always possessed a magical short game to rival that of the late Seve Ballesteros. The comparisons diverge there though, because Seve won his last major at the age of 31. Yes, technology is better and players are fitter and stronger, but Mickelson took his talent for reinvention to new levels at Kiawah Island in South Carolina last weekend. 50-year-olds are not supposed to win majors, because of the tremendous challenge to maintain mental focus for four days against younger competitors.

Playing in the final round with four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, a man almost 20 years his junior, Mickelson found something very deep inside himself to win the US PGA by two shots. He looked a man who had benefitted from meditation, calming himself and living in the present on every shot, especially after bag man and brother Tim gave him a rollicking and told him to commit on every shot when he was struggling on the front nine. The long par five 16th was an example of Mickelson blocking out the noise, as he smoked his drive beyond Koepka's under the klieg lights.

In the end, Mickelson, his eyes behind aviator sunglasses, had the experience and ability to close out the tournament on 18. It was almost a spiritual scene as the galleries, their lives disrupted over the last year, walked with Big Phil, the rock star in their impromptu concert. He has made the necessary changes over the last decade to get to this point. Eating better, exercising regularly. Fasting at times to manage arthritis. Playing 36 holes on a given day so a competitive effort could be maintained in events. I have felt that the depth of quality players has increased substantially in world golf in recent years, but perhaps Mickelson and a fit Woods, two veterans, are just better than all of them.

Mickelson sits on a high perch in golf's Hall of Fame. He's now tied for 12th alongside Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo in the all-time major wins category with six. He's tied for eighth when it comes to all time PGA Tour wins with 45.

Those who have watched golf for many years have been enthralled by Phil - by his gambling on the course, by his ability to escape from wild drives, by his laser iron play, by his dizzying flop shots, by his mesmerizing putting, by the continuous sense of the unexpected. He is Hollywood, but in a different way to Woods, more of an Arnold Palmer, a 'People's Champion' to Woods' Jack Nicklaus. His win at the US PGA is an inspiration to all of us who may wish to make changes to improve our lives as we grow older, but who may lack the consistent motivation to do so.

Mickelson has had a strange relationship with time. He had to wait forever for his first major and was the subject of all the questions as to why he hadn't won one. 17 years later, with the Wanamaker Trophy in his hands, he is the subject of questions as to how he did it at 50. He broke the longevity record set by 48-year-old Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship.

Mickelson has dealt with time on his own terms. He admitted on Sunday that he may never win a PGA Tour event again. It's also possible that he could make a run at the US Open at Torrey Pines in June. It's not a fantasy. What's a few more weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds when you have beaten time?

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