The world of golf witnessed the end of an era when Phil Mickelson dropped out of the world’s top 50 for the first time in almost 26 years.
The 49-year-old entered that elite group at the age of 23 on November 28, 1993 and he was to remain there for 1,353 consecutive weeks before dropping to 51st after finishing in a tie for 28th place in Shanghai.
That is a truly staggering feat and one which may never be matched in an age when the depth of talent around the world is much greater than it has ever been before.
To put what Mickelson has achieved into some sort of perspective it should be noted Ernie Els is currently next in line on that particular list but he languishes more than seven years behind Mickelson having dropped out after 965 weeks. The best active streak inside belongs to Rory McIlroy who has just made it through the 600-week barrier but who will have to remain there for almost another 15 years if he is to match Mickelson.
What is all the more remarkable about Mickelson’s enduring success is that he is not necessarily the first player who springs to mind when you start to draw up a list of the most consistent ball strikers. He has never been renowned for his accuracy from the tee but he does possess a sublime short game which is still almost as sharp as it was while winning his four majors and the first of his 44 PGA Tour titles.
Nowadays we tend be fixated by the distance the top players hit the ball but what we should never lose sight of is that golf at the top level is not, and never will be, purely about hitting the ball vast distances and without the ability to excel at both pitching and putting no player will survive at the top for long.
One man who has found that to his cost is Jordan Spieth, who won the last of his three majors as recently as 2017 but who is now in serious danger of following Mickelson out of the world’s top 50 after a calamitous 2019 in which he claimed just one top-three finish.
Spieth’s previous successes owed much to his prowess at putting rather than the proficiency of his long game. The statistics show that he is still among the best putters but not quite as good as he was and that slight dip, coupled with his ongoing struggle to hit fairways and greens, is the main cause of his fall down the rankings.
Spieth is 26 and still has plenty of time to turn things round. That is not a luxury Mickelson has on his side but, having embarked on a fitness programme and with his short game still intact, you would not discount him making several more forays into the top 50 well after he reaches his next big birthday in June.
Paul Azinger recently stated that Mickelson would win at least one tournament in his 50s and the man himself has certainly shown no sign of slinking off to play on the Champions Tour and settling for competing against players more similar in age to him.
I for one would not bet against him doing just that, not the man whose record has earned him the right to be regarded as the second best player in the era of Tiger Woods.
Colin Callander has been a golf writer for more than 30 years and is a member of three clubs, including the Royal and Ancient.
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