CROMWELL, Conn. — He’s alive.
For this week’s Travelers Championship.
And for the U.S. Open in September at Winged Foot.
Phil Mickelson’s playing career is not dead yet.
Not after turning 50 last Tuesday. Not after missing the cut in his previous three tournaments this season and staring at the ignominy of missing the weekend in four in a row for the first time since 1993.
Mickelson, playing in his first tournament at Champions Tour-eligible age, posted a bogey-free 6-under 64 in Thursday’s opening round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands, where he won in 2001 and 2002. He is four shots behind leader Mackenzie Hughes, who posted a 60.
It’s been a good 24 hours for Mickelson.
On Thursday morning, the USGA announced its revised qualifying criteria for the upcoming U.S. Open at Winged Foot and it was very favorable for Mickelson, a record six-time runner-up in the event, including his infamous implosion on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in 2006 that cost him the one leg of the Grand Slam absent on his résumé.
Before the pandemic forced the postponement of the U.S. Open from June to September, the top 60 players in the Official World Golf Rankings were exempted into the field. Mickelson is currently ranked 66th. The revised formula is exempting the top 70 players as of March 15, at which time he was ranked 61st.
So, Mickelson, who was on the outside looking in before the pandemic, is in.
“That worked out great, to be able to know that I have a chance to go back to Winged Foot and give it another shot,’’ Mickelson said after his round Thursday, paired with Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau. “But I’ve had 30 U.S. Opens. I’ve had plenty of opportunities … so if I [didn’t] qualify, I want somebody else who deserves a spot to play.’’
We should all enjoy something as much as Mickelson enjoys golf.
“I love what I do,’’ Mickelson said. “I also enjoy trying to play my game and compete regardless of age.’’
Since 1975, only three players have won PGA Tour events after their 50th birthday. Mickelson is eligible to play on the Champions Tour, but right now he’s about as interested in doing that as he would be participating in an oral history of his choke job in that ’06 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
“His longevity is incredible,’’ McIlroy said. “I think the big thing about Phil is his resilience. He keeps putting himself in position. It looks from the outside [like] he’s never feared failure.’’
Keegan Bradley, who was mentored by Mickelson when he first got onto the PGA Tour, has a deep admiration for Mickelson’s unending passion for playing.
“His love of the game and, after all these years and all these wins, the effort and really how badly he wants to win and play well,’’ Bradley said. “It’s an inspiration to all of us.’’
Nothing would be more inspiring to the game than Mickelson finally winning a U.S. Open at a place that has haunted him for the past 14 years. If he were able to pull it off, he’d become the first 50-year-old ever to win a major championship.
“It would be an incredible story for our game,’’ McIlroy said. “But … I think Phil has proved enough to everyone — three green jackets, a PGA, an Open Championship. If he doesn’t win it, it’s not a blemish on his career. If it weren’t me and he found himself in that position [to win at Winged Foot], I’d definitely be rooting for him.’’
McIlroy hardly would be alone.