Led by Phil's major triumph, this PGA Tour season has been one for the ageless

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — You could make a strong argument that the pool of good, young talent in professional golf is deeper than any prior generation.

But, it's the old dogs who've had their days in the sun in 2021. Stewart Cink won earlier this season at age 47, then won again at age 48. Brian Gay won at 49. Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship at 50, the oldest man ever to win a major.

Mickelson, in the field at this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, stunned the golf world in winning his sixth major. But, with a new strict diet and a boosted work ethic, he didn't stun himself.

Phil Mickelson won his sixth major at age 50.

"Worked harder, is the deal," Mickelson said after hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time, this time at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. "I just had to 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. That's been the biggest challenge of late. My desire to play is the same.

"I just didn't see why it couldn't be done. It just took a little bit more effort."

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Other pros took notice of Mickelson's major run — only five men, including Sam Snead and Davis Love III, have won a PGA Tour tournament at an age older than Mickelson — and it left quite the impression, especially with Bryson DeChambeau, who once famously said he hopes to live to "130 or 140."

DeChambeau, the defending Rocket Mortgage Classic and 2020 U.S. Open champion, takes some inspiration from Mickelson that he might be winning big tournaments at 50, too.

"Oh, 100%," he said at Detroit Golf Club last month. "Golf is this amazing game where you have people shooting their age all the time, well into their 70s and even 80s."

For DeChambeau, the key is maintaining high ball speed. It's over 200 mph these days, at 27. He said if he's at 185 or 190 at age 50, his career will continue to flourish. Mickelson is around 180 mph. For comparison, the average 14-, 15-handicap amateur has a ball speed of less than 100 mph.

Cink's wins this season, with son Reagan on the bag, are his first since the famous 2009 British Open, when he beat Tom Watson in a playoff. He, likewise, credits his resurgence to gained ball speed over the last year, and thus extra yards off the tee. He's up about 10 yards off the tee.

"It made a big difference," said Cink, who's not in the field this week. "There is such a close margin out here between winning and 20th place or even finishing top 10 and missing the cut. It's a very close margin.

"When you can give yourself a little bit of a boost in your performance you can pass a lot of people fast."

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Aside from Mickelson, who hadn't won on the PGA Tour since 2019 and seemed to be heading toward a more Champions Tour-heavy schedule (he won twice on the 50-and-older circuit in 2020), the biggest story by a graybeard this year might just be England's Richard Bland, who earned his first European Tour victory at age 48, and then was leading the U.S. Open at the halfway point. Also of note this PGA Tour season, Matt Jones won at 41 and Sergio Garcia at 40.

Among the older players in this week's field are Mickelson, 51-year-old K.J. Choi and 63-year-old Jeff Roth, who earned his spot by being the 2019 Michigan PGA section champion. As to DeChambeau's point, yes, Roth would love to shoot his age this week.

"Now, that would be exciting," he said.

Chips & divots

► Detroit Golf Club is taking a beating this week by heavy rains, but it's still playable, much to the surprise and appreciation of the players. With more rain in the forecast, it's likely players will play under lift-clean-place rules, at least for the opening rounds.

More heavy rain Tuesday afternoon shut down late practice rounds, and threatened to flood the 18th hole.

The soft conditions will make DGC play longer and the lush rough even thicker, but it'll also soften the difficult greens. The net result could be even lower scores than we've seen the first two years.

► Making his PGA Tour debut in Detroit is 26-year-old Chilean Mito Pereira, who received the three-win automatic promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour. He's the 12th player in the development tour's history to secure the three-win promotion.

"I'd say obviously I want to win," said Pereira, good friends and housemates with fellow Chilean Joaquin Niemann, also in this week's field. "But I'll take this more as an experience to feel good."

► Tee times for the locals in the field: Brian Stuard (Jackson/Oakland), 7:05 a.m. Thursday and 12:20 p.m. Friday; Ryan Brehm (Traverse City/Michigan State), 8:35 a.m. Thursday and 1:50 p.m. Friday; Willie Mack III (Flint), 1:50 p.m. Thursday and 8:35 a.m. Friday; and Jeff Roth (Plymouth), 8:45 a.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Friday.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984