News & Opinion

Mickelson cuts fat as he raises stakes

Nearing 50, Phil Mickelson sheds upwards of 30 pounds as he seeks to expand his legacy

You can count on one hand with a couple of fingers left over the players in the game who are larger than life. Phil Mickelson is one of them. And as the legend of Lefty grows, his physical stature has become smaller. Instead of being well-rounded in a few places, in a word, he’s ripped.

Mickelson started in July with a six-day fast that included, typically for Phil, a special coffee blend for “wellness.” He dropped 15 pounds in 10 days with this regimen right before the British Open, calling it a “hard reset.” Soon after, he was photographed in shorts, sporting calves that, frankly, were a bit grotesque but whose size impressed athletes of all stripes.

Phil Mickelson, 2019 BMW Championship
Phil Mickelson enters the new PGA Tour season with a renewed focus as he faces his 50th birthday next year.

By all accounts, Mickelson has lost 25-30 pounds. His sister, Tina, posted a picture on Twitter of him at the beach – while the Tour Championship was going on – that showed the world what a physical specimen Mickelson has become.

In the meantime, Mickelson has become a force on social media, famous for his “Phireside with Phil” chats on Instagram.

His motivation hasn’t been hard to follow. He has a birthday with a zero in it come next June. While he’s to be commended for getting healthier, what else he’s trying to get is younger.

In a golf world that is becoming increasingly dominated by twentysomethings – both physically and in attitudes – 50 is practically ancient. And Mickelson, who will turn 50 on June 16, is fighting the relentless march of time as hard and as fast as he can.

Mickelson appears to want desperately what nearly everyone who has too many candles on his cake seeks: to remain relevant.

Not only does he still want to be a factor on the golf course, he seems to need to be talked about, to stay a part of the bigger conversation. Hence, the social-media push. It’s a remarkable sea change for someone who, until now, had been one of the most private players in professional golf away from the job site.

Phil Mickelson and Steph Curry Instagram
Can you spot the NBA star in this photograph? OK, so that’s Golden State’s Steph Curry at right, but a slimmed-down Phil Mickelson looks as if he might be able to suit up with his pro-am partner at the recent Safeway Open.

Despite the makeover – or perhaps as a result of it – Mickelson remains committed to his way of playing golf. It consists of “hitting bombs” off the tee, finding them – no matter where they end up – and hitting it again.

That’s been a problem for him in 2019. Despite a victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, which many observers thought would be a harbinger, Mickelson was dreadful for the remainder of the year.

After Pebble Beach, he didn’t have a top-10 finish. His best result was a tie for 18th at the Masters. He was T-71 at the PGA Championship, T-52 at the U.S. Open and missed the cut at the British Open. He didn’t make the Tour Championship and has slipped to No. 44 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

What hasn’t changed about Mickelson is the way he thinks. He sees things on the golf course that no one else sees. He tries shots that no one else would even consider. And the result is that when Phil misses, there’s nothing small about it.

At the Safeway Open two weeks ago, Phil being Phil, he hit two balls out of bounds with his approach on the par-5 fifth hole in the first round – one with a 5-iron and the next one with a 6-iron. He missed the cut. At the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas last week, he hit a recovery shot off a gravel path and a driver out of a bush. While the leaders were shooting 61s and 62s in the third round, Mickelson shot himself out of the tournament with a 74 (scores).

Mickelson can remake his body, but he’s having trouble re-tooling his brain. He has complained of a lack of focus, but a chiseled physique won’t cure that problem. There’s a reason why Champions Tour events are only 54 holes. And it’s the same reason why it’s rare to win on Tour past age 50 and the oldest player to have won a major is Julius Boros, at 48. That’s because it’s so terribly hard to be mentally sharp for 72 holes as we get older.

Mickelson has been spotted lately chewing gum. Whether what he’s chewing contains CBD or something else to help with focus, it’s a function of age that’s increasingly difficult to fight. But he still believes it’s possible. Even after the two balls OB at the Safeway, Mickelson remained characteristically upbeat.

“So, my attitude is just a lot better, the way I feel is a lot better, and so a round like this isn't getting me down because I can feel it start to turn,” he said in Napa, Calif. “I'm excited to come out tomorrow morning and get on some fresh greens and show that my game is coming back.”

Mickelson has had a remarkable career: 44 PGA Tour victories, including five major championships, plus 36 runner-up and 27 third-place finishes in 616 career starts. But he apparently is far from ready for his career to be over or even have it begin to wind down. It’s wholly unlikely that he will fade onto the Champions Tour.

Would Mickelson rather play great or be talked about? Or is he auditioning for next year’s “Body Issue” in ESPN the Magazine? Regardless, one thing couldn’t be clearer: He’s not going away quietly. Or soon.