As anyone that has played 72 holes of golf in the space of four days will tell you, this is a sport that requires immense conditioning and physicality – particularly at the elite level.
Golf is, in many ways, a ‘young man’s game’, and yet that didn’t stop Phil Mickelson from claiming the spoils from a selection of 20 and 30-year-olds at the PGA Championship.
Lefty, as he is known, is now the wrong side of 50, but that didn’t stop him on Kiawah Island as – despite the howling gale and tough conditions – he outlasted a field of players roughly half his age to win the sixth major of his career.
“This is just an incredible feeling. I just believed that it was possible yet everything was saying it wasn’t and I hope that others find that inspiration,” a delighted Mickelson said afterwards.
“It may take a little extra work and harder effort to maintain the physicality, or maintain the skills, but gosh is it worth it in the end.”
Phil Mickelson (50 years, 11 months)
With that victory, Mickelson became the oldest major winner in the sport’s history too – there can’t be many other sporting events where a player into their sixth decade can reign supreme against the world’s finest.
So who else has won a golf major as they enter the autumn of their career?
Julius Boros (48 Years, 4 Months)
A player known as ‘Moose’, Julius Boros won 25 times worldwide but none could match his triumph in the 1968 PGA Championship at the age of 48.
His first major triumph had come in the 1952 U.S. Open, where he defeated local favourite Ben Hogan in Dallas to clinch his first PGA TOUR title – let alone his first major – as thermometers reached 37˚C in the Texan city.
Boros defeated Arnold Palmer in a play-off to clinch the 1963 U.S. Open, before the defining moment of his career came five years later.
With a penchant for golf in the Lonestar State, Boros prevailed at the Pecan Valley Golf Club in San Antonio – entering the final round two shots adrift of the leaders, the 48-year-old ground out a score of -1 while those around him struggled to cope with the fast conditions.
He would remain the oldest winner of a golf major for the next five decades until Mickelson’s heroics in South Carolina….
Old Tom Morris (46 years, 3 months)
That’s not a typo – in the 1800s, there were two elite golfers known as Old Tom Morris and his son, you guessed it, Young Tom Morris.
It was Morris Sr who made history when he won the Open Championship in 1867 – at the time, he was the oldest major champion in the sport’s admittedly short history.
He won by two shots at the Prestwick Club in South Ayrshire, and in jubilant scenes he lifted the trophy and was presented with a cheque for £7 in prize money.
Morris Sr would win four editions of the Open Championship all told, and he was the first player to truly dominate the sport even in its humble beginnings.
Jack Nicklaus (46 years, 2 months)
Widely regarded as one of the best players in the sport’s history, Jack Nicklaus has 18 major championships to his name – his last was arguably the most extraordinary of his career.
Played at the ever difficult Augusta National, Nicklaus entered the final round of the 1986 Masters needing something astonishing to get back into contention – playing the back nine holes in 30 shots certainly fitted the bill.
Younger stars, including Greg Norman and Tom Kite, simply could not match the veteran’s excellence, and at 46 Nicklaus would claim the last major of his stellar career in the most outstanding circumstances.
Jerry Barber (45 years, 3 months)
Jerry Barber would only win one major title in his career – that was the 1961 PGA Championship at the age of 45.
Standing 5ft 5in, Barber was a pocket dynamo rather than a big hitting star, but his mastery on and around the green would sweep him to seven PGA TOUR titles.
The most prestigious of those came at Olympia Fields County Club in Illinois. The event was one of the only times in major golfing history that the scores from a round were scrapped – such was the ferocity of the rain on the Friday.
The second round was replayed before a gruelling 36 holes were played on the Sunday, and Barber ground his way into a play-off for the title after holing an incredible 120ft of putts on the final three holes of regulation play.
Barber and Don January would then play an 18-hole play-off on the Monday, with the final hole acting as a sudden death decider – Barber held his nerve to clinch a remarkably tough major victory.
Hale Irwin (45 years, 1 month)
They say that the U.S. Open is the hardest of the majors to win in golf, and so the fact that Hale Irwin won three of them – including his third at the age of 45 – tells you all you need to know about one of the most underrated players of all time.
Irwin showed plenty of fortitude to land a 45ft on the 72nd hole to force a play-off with Mike Donald, and that bruising 18-hole encounter – Donald again missing a putt to win at the last – went into sudden death.
Perhaps calling on his prior experiences, Irwin dug deep on the first sudden death hole to find a birdie and clinch a momentous third U.S. Open victory. It would be the final major victory for a player that won titles on all six continents that golf is played.