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Phil Mickelson not fading into twilight

Phil Mickelson: PGA Championship | R4 | 2021
Amid the setting sun, Phil Mickelson tees off on the 18th hole during the PGA Championship's final round at Kiawah Island (S.C.) Resort's Ocean Course. Mickelson went on to win and become the oldest major championship winner at age 50.

Winning the PGA Championship does not deter the 50-year-old Mickelson from keeping his word to play at Colonial Country Club, a site where Mickelson's bond goes beyond golf

FORT WORTH — Phil Mickelson makes his first stop on his year-long PGA Championship victory tour this week at Colonial Country Club, which hosts the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Colonial is a familiar venue with a long and rich history, not unlike the 50-year-old Mickelson.

“This a very special place me and for golf,” said Mickelson after finishing a pro-am round on Wednesday morning.

This week will mark Mickelson's 17th appearance at Colonial, which hosted the 1941 U.S. Open and the 1991 U.S. Women’s Open, and has been a stop on the PGA Tour every year but one since 1946. Flooding of the nearby Trinity River forced a cancellation in 1949.  

“What Mr. [Marvin] Leonard [the course founder] and Mr. [Ben] Hogan started here is unique. I’m just glad that my name is on the first tee Wall of Champions twice.”

This week's arrival may be Mickelson’s most unlikely.

Coming off his logic-defying PGA Championship win Sunday at Kiawah Island (S.C.) Resort’s Ocean Course — which put him in the record books as the oldest major champion ever — conventional wisdom would suggest he skip out on his commitment to play this week. Especially with the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines just three weeks out.

“It never crossed my mind not to play this week,” said Mickelson, whose two wins at Colonial (2000 and 2008) are among his 45 on the PGA Tour. “I gave my word to Charles Schwab I would be here. This golf course, as I've gotten older, suits me a bit better because of the chance to hit a lot of iron shots into the green; not have to hit so many drivers and be able to keep it in play a little bit easier.”

Mickelson opting in as opposed to out did not surprise tournament officials.

“That just shows you the commitment and bond Phil and Colonial have and the long-term relationship we’ve built,” said Michael Tothe, Charles Schwab Challenge tournament director.

The bond was forged like steel in 2009 when Mickelson’s wife Amy was going through breast cancer treatments. Colonial organized a tournament-wide “Pink Out” to honor and encourage the Mickelsons, despite the fact that Phil decided not to defend his title to be with his wife.

A huge “We Love Amy” banner signed by hundreds of fans and players was draped behind the 18th green. Pink-colored apparel was rampant among those on the grounds and even then-CBS announcer David Feherty dyed his goatee pink for the week.

We Love You Amy
In 2009, after Phil Mickelson's wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing treatment, fans and players signed a banner of support that was placed behind the 18th green at that year's Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Mickelson, the reigning champion, did not play that year.

“We love Phil and Amy, they’re just part of the family to us,” said Michelle Marlow, whose children operate a course-side lemonade stand where Mickelson has been known to stop by and buy a couple of cups. He then claims he doesn’t have anything smaller than a $100 bill and leaves it as a tip.

While Mickelson will have plenty of chances for lemonade along the par-70, tree-lined course, he said his schedule carries a bit more significance following his PGA title. There is renewed talk of him completing the career Grand Slam in his native San Diego next month and the possibility of a Ryder Cup spot in September.

“Either that's going to be my last win and I'm going to have one of the most cherished victories of my career to look back on and cherish for a long time, or I also may have kind of found a little something that helps me stay a little bit more present,” he said. “I don’t know which one it’s going to be.”

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker hopes it’s the latter.

“I played with Phil (last Monday) at Kiawah and he was striking it beautifully,” said  Stricker, who is preparing for this week’s PGA Senior Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. “I think he’s moved up from 52nd in the Ryder Cup standings to [16th], so we will certainly keep an eye on that. He would be a great asset to the team.”

While the PGA Championship win has lifted him to the spotlight at Colonial, the most familiar tie between Mickelson and Colonial might be his three Masters victories at Augusta National Golf Club.

Like the Masters at Augusta, Colonial is the only tournament on the PGA Tour schedule run exclusively by members. They oversee all aspects of the tradition and history at the club, which opened in 1936 in the middle of the Great Depression by architects Perry Maxwell and Texas’ John Bredemus.

The club was founded by Leonard, a Fort Worth businessman who was also Hogan’s benefactor and mentor. Craig Wood won the 1941 U.S. Open and Meg Mallon won the 1991 U.S. Women’s Open.

In 2003, Annika Sorenstam became the first female to play in a PGA Tour event in decades, and when the PGA Tour decided to resume competition last year following an extended break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Colonial, even without fans, was the site selected.

“I think daddy would be real proud of what we’ve accomplished here,” said Marty Leonard, Marvin’s daughter, who is still active in club affairs.

Like Augusta, Colonial club members have made it clear they aren’t looking to change tradition any time soon.

“I think it’s a true the connection between us and Augusta,” said member Chris Stenholm, whose father first brought him to Colonial at age 13 and who has been a member for decades. “We’re both run by the members and have been in the same place since we started. We take great pride in that.”

Which is why they are also happy to welcome home a favorite son in Mickelson this week.

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