Photo courtesy of David Yeazell/USA Today Sports

If you looked closely, you could see his shadow walking away in the distance. It was a familiar outline, one that looked just like somebody we once knew. A body shaped like a man who had won 44 PGA Tour tournaments and 5 major championships. Though it couldn’t be him, he was the one standing there holding the Wanamaker Trophy. Then who was it walking away on the dusk lit beach? 

Phil Mickelson won his last PGA Tour event in 2019. Since that time, much has been documented about his play. Though he seemed to adjust easily to the PGA Tour Champions winning his first two events, Phil wasn’t done with the PGA Tour, or was he? The analytics precisely portrayed what the Official World Ranking showed us. Phil was the 115th ranked player in the world and falling fast. This happens though. As our athletes get older, they start to decline. 

Phil was ranked in the Top 50 in the world for 25 straight years. An amazing feat. The second-best golfer of his generation. 640+ tournaments played, $94.6 million in career earnings and the people’s champion. We all struggle with watching our sporting heroes decline. It’s tough to watch. Just a month ago, we were all excited after an opening round 64 in Charlotte by Lefty. Unfortunately, that magic evaporated quickly. By the weekend Phil was walking the fairways in the early morning, not in one of the final groups as we had been accustomed to so often. 

As tough as it was for us to accept, in the press room Phil gave us the feeling he really didn’t want to let go. Stories of great play, feeling stronger than ever and being in a great place mentally were all he would speak of. Sorry Phil, it happens to the best of them at some point. For some, retirement is a long process. Not for professional athletes; especially in golf. For every Phil or Tom Watson there’s hundreds of David Duvals. Great players who reached extraordinary heights only to fall almost as quickly as they arrived. Consider Harris English has made more money on the PGA Tour than David Duval. That’s how quick it can happen.  

Phil’s career was fulfilled to us. Plenty of wins, and more than a couple majors was great for any golfer who competed during the height of Tiger’s supremacy. Yet, there was still something about Mickelson that didn’t quite seem done. The greatest lesson in all of this isn’t merely of how hard work and determination pay off, it’s a lesson in acceptance. 

What we were experiencing, Phil Mickelson was not ready to accept. For the past 15 months, we have all faced challenging times. During this pandemic period, the world has been reset in many ways. Similarly, Phil reset his mind and his body. Behind those sunglasses is a man who thinks differently than before. Whether it was his coach Andrew Getson, his brother Tim caddying or someone else like his wife, somebody helped Phil remain steadfast in his belief there was more in the tank. 

What we witnessed this past week was historic in the record books. As a fan of sports, consider this perspective: Twelve months ago, two men lost an epic golf match on national television. Since that time, one has won another Superbowl, his seventh. The second man just became the oldest major championship winner in men’s professional golf. What we are willing to accept is determined by our mindset and the perspective of those we surround ourselves with. 

The Legend of Bagger Vance is a notable golf story made into a movie and filmed on Kiawah Island. The opening analogy describes a scene where the lead character reaches a renewed level of self-belief. When that happens, his spirit guide walks off. Leaving him to enjoy his newfound self. Allow Phil’s story to echo in your mind for a couple days. Let’s all be inspired by his powerful example. Whatever challenges you face going forward believe in yourself. Phil’s not a legend because he’s won 6 major championships, he’s a legend because he connects with all of us; every Stick & Hack. Just like the gallery on 18 Sunday, follow Phil’s example in self-belief and go become a legend yourself.

Keith Stewart

Keith Stewart is a PGA Professional and storyteller. He has built a unique marketplace perspective through two decades in the golf industry. As a professional, he has worked at many prestigious clubs on the east coast, most notably, Isleworth Country Club from 1998 to 2003, home to Tiger Woods at the time. Currently, Keith uses his talent as the host of the ProShow on ESPN radio across the New York City market. His expertise in the industry blended with a comedic pop-culture filter entertains his listeners. He's a 5-time award winning PGA Professional who brings credibility to any discussion covering the world of sports. Keith resides in Hopewell, NJ with his wife Laurie and their two kids Owen and Abbey. He's a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA and an avid golfer.