Longevity in golf: key lessons from Phil Mickelson’s historic success

  • May 25, 2021
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Phil Mickelson has just gone on and on and on and on.  He has simply refused to fade away. He is one of the youngest players to win a PGA Tour event having won the Tour’s old Tucson in 1991 at age 20 and is now the oldest player ever to win a major, the PGA championship 2021, at age 50. No doubt, he ranks among the best golfers in the world over the last 30 years.

And his PGA Championship triumph last week, perhaps the most famous win in his career, came in style; it was his sixth win in a major increasing his victories on the PGA Tour to 45. He is now only the 14th golfer to win six-plus major titles.

Mickelson has managed to roll back years after adapting a new philosophy in life in 2010: “I’m going to eat better, eat less, work out more, just stay committed to it”.

So how has he managed to remain competitive for more than a quarter a century? Here are some insights from his endurance:

Watch what you eat

Mickelson embarked on a radical transformation of his health in the mid-2000s when he began to feel his body and his performances decline. “I wasn’t playing well and I wasn’t feeling good about myself.  I wasn’t recovering as fast as I wanted to after the rounds and I was feeling tired and not focused towards the end of the round. Then in 2010 he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. “I felt that the first step in getting that back was getting in better shape — getting lighter,” he said.

He embarked on a diet plan and “became accountable for my own health”.  Mickelson became cautious about what he ate and the frequency too. “Earlier in my career II either wasn’t aware or didn’t want to know the things I was putting in my body, whether it was diet soda and how toxic that is, or whether it was the amount of sugar and how much inflammation it causes, or whether it was the quantity; all of those things, I just kind of shut my eyes to,” he said.

He has now fully invested in a six-day fasting routine, during which he subsists on only water and a special coffee blend. Mickelson has structured his eating around periodic fasts- longer fasts and shorter ones.  He does the longer fasts which last for 36 hours at the start of the week to cleanse and detox his body so it can recover. “It’s been a blessing for me because I feel better and I don’t have inflammation and I wake up feeling good. It’s been a sacrifice worth making,” he said.

Have a strong passion for success

Though Mickelson will turn 51 years old next month, he is still hungry for success. He is still determined to become just the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam at next month’s US Open on his 30th attempt!

“He just loves golf — he loves golf. When he’s at home, he’s still playing almost every single day, sometimes 36. He’s grinding. It never stops for him,” Tim Mickelson, his brother and caddie said.

“He’s got this incredible will to win. This is a guy that built a driving range in his backyard when he was over 40 years old. He’s built a little differently than a lot of guys. He’s extremely competitive. He’s not ready to concede anything to anybody. So an incredible will to win, and it’s not going to leave him anytime soon,” said his long-time ex- caddie Jim Mackay who was on Mickelson’s for 25 years before they split in 2017. Together, they won five majors and 41 PGA Tour titles.

Since rising to a career-high world number two ranking, Mickelson’s stock has since plummeted that he had dropped to number 115 on the World Golf Ranking last week yet he’s not giving up on his desire to compete at the highest level. “My desire to play is the same.  I’ve always been intrinsically motivated because I love to compete, I love playing the game. I love having opportunities to play against the best at the highest level,” he said.

Following last week’s victory at the PGA championship, Mickelson moved to position 32 on the OWGR and stands a chance of being selected in the US Ryder Cup team.

Keep fit

One of the major talking points of Mickelson’s revival is his amazing driving distance. In the 2020 season on the PGA Tour, he averaged 301.5 yards off the tee! In fact the highlight of his victory at the PGA Championship was when he hit the longest drive at the 16th hole on Sunday!

This is as a result of Mickelson embracing a golf-specific workout regimen since 2003 under the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI). The programme has helped him to lengthen his career and keep him injury free.

Famous for his “bombs” which he says require strength development, power and explosiveness Mickelson advises intensive exercise for three body parts — the spine, knees and shoulders.

“I think there are two things that I attribute to my health and longevity.  One is working with Sean Cochran since 2003.  He’s not trying to get me to bulk up, he’s trying to get my body function sequentially in the right way.  That’s a big part of it.  The second is that my golf swing doesn’t put a lot of pressure on my body…  I try to let the length of my arc create speed as opposed to trying to be short and violent.”

“Performance coaches don’t train muscle groups, we train movements.  Phil (and every golfer) is a rotary athlete, and needs to train the core in three ways.  One, stabilization with extremity movements.  Two, anti-rotational capacities, where golfers need to not rotate (similar to coiling during your backswing).  Three, the need to rotate at high speeds (downswing rotation),” said Cochran, Mickelson’s coach.

Here are some inspiring quotes from the legend on longevity:

There’s no reason why golf can’t be the game for a lifetime if you take care of your body and do it the right way.

There’s no reason why you can’t accomplish your goals at an older age. It’s just going to take more effort. If you put in the work, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.

I work harder physically to be able to practice as long as I wanted to and I’ve had to work a lot harder to be able to maintain focus throughout a round. If I work a little harder, spend a little more time in the gym, eat well, practice hard, there’s no reason why I can’t put it all out there for 18 holes.

Ultimately we all need to be accountable for our own health, and I haven’t done a great job of that throughout my career. I wish I had done better. It’s not too late. I’m getting after it now.

My family has reduced the effect of my career on my self-esteem. When I’m with them, they make me feel special regardless of how I play.”

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