Phil Mickelson has a sparkling record at Quail Hollow, but he never gave himself a chance to make the PGA Championship cut.
Phil Mickelson’s trip to the 2017 PGA Championship was supposed to be a time of celebration. His 100th major championship start, Mickelson has played in at least one major every year since 1990. However, the party has been cut short, as Lefty never so much as sniffed the cut line at Quail Hollow.
If there’s a silver lining, of course, it’s that Friday’s second round was something of a formality. An eight-over round of 79 on Thursday meant Mickelson would likely need something in the mid-60s to have a shot at the weekend. Three bogeys in his first seven holes were the final nail this major’s coffin.
It took 31 holes for Phil to make his first birdie, when he carded a 2 on the par-3 fourth hole. Never mind that he gave three shots more back going bogey-double on Nos. 5 and 6; by that time, Mickelson was playing for his own enjoyment.
So many losses leave their scars, single moments when championships changed paths. This week never had that moment for Phil, but there is one big question mark lingering.
What happened to Lefty?
The “Bones effect” is very real
One theory floating around is that Mickelson’s decision to part with career-long caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay is hurting him more than he expected. It’s one of the most logical arguments out there.
Bones had been by Phil’s side since 1992. Many player-caddie relationships are close, but theirs
was a symbiotic partnership. Phil fed off of Bones, and they made each other better when it mattered the most. It’s hard to imagine that moment on the 18th green at Muirfield, for instance, without Bones. Phil had all the shots to win an Open, but without Mackay – at that exact time and place – he may never have gotten there.
The career stats have been well covered in the aftermath of the split, but right now, you have to wonder, was it really the right time for both of them? Mackay did solid work at Royal Birkdale as a Golf Channel contributor, but might he have been able to help Phil avoid his third missed cut in his last six majors?
These are questions we could never know the answers to. Mickelson and Bones missed the cut at the Masters and U.S. Open in 2016, together. Mickelson’s last victory anywhere was that 2013 Open triumph. His results haven’t been bad by normal standards, but Phil has never shied away from unconventional tactics.
That doesn’t mean that Phil’s brother, Tim, is a bad choice of caddie. Few people on the planet know Phil better. Tim has a solid resume on his own, coaching players like Jon Rahm to success at Arizona State. But when even that isn’t clicking, there has to be something else.
Phil Mickelson may be running into the natural closure of his “major window”
There’s an old saying in sports, and it rings true to this day.
“Father Time is undefeated.”
Mickelson turned 47 in June, and it’s reasonable to think that we’re simply seeing a natural progression. He’s worked incredibly hard to be fit and healthy, and I believe he’ll be competitive for several more years. But even the greatest lose some edge eventually.
This week’s setup at Quail Hollow is incredibly difficult, and it bears little resemblance to the usual
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Wells Fargo Championship. Just ask Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler about that. Add in the quality at the top end of this field and you’ve got a tough road to the top, made cut or not.
That’s the type of thing that will happen at more majors in coming years. I don’t want to say Phil’s “done”, because he clearly isn’t. He’s still too smart, too strong for that. But there’s also a reason why Julius Boros, who won the PGA Championship at age 48 in 1968, still holds the record as the oldest major winner.
Phil will have his advantages at a lot of courses, and many regular Tour stops. But nobody lasts forever, and even though Mickelson is doing nothing wrong, missed cuts are a reality.
I’m not ready to give up on Phil, and you know he won’t be packing it in any time soon. But perhaps it’s time for all of us to temper our expectations a bit. If you always expect magic, it won’t be as special.
Can Phil Mickelson remain a force in major championships, or is that window nearly closed?