Phil Mickelson's most impressive feat may very well be his longevity in the top 50 rankings
Lefty is hanging on for dear life in the Official World Golf Rankings
For some -- like last week's Houston Open winner, Lanto Griffin -- the best achievement of a career is easy to peg. Most professional golfers have either never won at all or won so little that it's simple to point to a zenith. Others who have won a lot have also might have won a major or a Players or a FedEx Cup. But for some -- normally the best players in the world -- it's not so easy their greatest feat.
Tiger Woods, for example. What's his greatest accomplishment? Which of the 15 majors are you picking from? What about the $130 million earned on the course? Or the silly record of 142 consecutive cuts made? There are a thousand things you could point to.
The same is true of one of Woods' contemporaries, Phil Mickelson. Lefty has won five majors, has the ninth-most victories in PGA Tour history and has done it all -- as he'll gleefully tell you -- as one of the worst drivers among the best players in the history of the game.
So what do you point to when you're defining Mickelson's greatness? Is it the first Masters win which eventually inspired his own logo? What about the second or third Masters win? That Open in his 40s? Six (!) runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open? Winning a pro event while he was still an amateur?
For me, it's none of those things. Plenty of folks have won the Masters. Heck, 18 other golfers have won as many or more majors than Mickelson. What sets Mickelson apart from everyone else are a pair of two-and-a-half decade streaks that are -- at some point in the near future -- about to come to an end.
Here they are.
1. A run of 25 years in the top 50: This is remarkable. I was eight years old last time Mickelson was outside the top 50 in the world. He was one of the 50 best golfers in the world for my entire middle school, high school and college years. I'm 34 now. Mickelson hasn't exited the top 50, although at No. 47, it's likely that he's about to. Here's Justin Ray with some more perspective.
Phil's run in the top-50 is the longest since the inception of the OWGR, but the achievement looks even more incredible when juxtaposed with his peers' active streaks. The second-longest active run in the top-50 belongs to Rory McIlroy at 569 weeks -- a mere 782 weeks (a little over FIFTEEN YEARS) behind Mickelson. Only six players have an active streak within 1,000 weeks of Phil: Rory, Matt Kuchar (510), Dustin Johnson (506), Justin Rose (489), Jason Day (477) and Sergio Garcia (427).
2. A run of 24 straight team events: The two are related, but Mickelson hasn't missed a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup team for the United States side since the 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry. Tom Kite played on that team. Not captained, but played on. This streak is likely to end next month when captain Tiger Woods makes his captain picks for the U.S. side headed to Australia in December.
"I have not played well in the last seven, eight months," Mickelson said this week at the CJ Cup in Korea. "There are much better options of players that have played consistently at a high level that deserve to be on the team and I have not -- even if I were to win [this week] -- I have not done enough to warrant a pick.
"I'm not asking for one, I don't expect one. I think there's a lot better options for the U.S. side. I would like to add that I am starting to play much better golf and I'm excited about this upcoming season and I'm excited about making the Ryder Cup team next year and I plan on doing that."
So there's some sadness in there, but to me it's also a celebration of what Mickelson has achieved. While not many can win five majors, plenty of folks have had all-time one-off major-winning weeks. But to stay in the top 50 in the world for 1,500 straight months? That's a joke.
That's day after day of grinding. Year after year of putting in the work. Mickelson gets tagged with a lot of labels, but hard-ass worker is rarely one of them. It should be. He's put in tremendous effort to perfect his craft and the proof is in these two streaks. That they're about to end -- maybe both before the year is over -- isn't reason to bemoan Lefty's future but rather reason to celebrate his past.
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