An interesting question popped up on Twitter late Sunday afternoon.
What’s more impressive? Tom Brady winning Super at age 43, or Phil Mickelson winning a major golf tournament less than a month from his 51st birthday?
It seems like a no-brainer, but it could be a surprisingly interesting debate.
The physical challenge of playing in the NFL is obvious, and there’s a reason why almost nobody, outside of kickers and punters, makes it to 43 before the skills erode, either from injury or time. Football is a team game, and no quarterback has been successful without 10 talented players around him, but it’s also true that without good quarterback play, you don’t win Super Bowls.
To Brady’s credit, he’s kept himself in great shape, which as most of us know, gets harder as you age. He’s also had the good fortune of playing in a system, behind good offensive lines, that has kept him pretty safe.
But in football, any hit could be the last, and he’s had to overcome some injuries to play 21 seasons and win seven Super Bowls. He doesn’t appear to be aging too quickly and plans to be back with Tampa Bay next season, with the goal of winning an eighth championship.
Certainly, Mickelson hasn’t faced the physical challenges of professional football, but the hurdles he’s overcome to be a major winner after turning 50 are significant. The younger players can generate such incredible club head speed, launching the golf ball high and long, and as anyone who swings the golf club has experienced, that power is tougher to find every season.
Mickelson ranks 48th on the PGA Tour in driving distance at 302.5 yards, a bit better than than Tour average of 295.5 yards, but well behind No. 1 Bryson DeChambeau at 322.5. DeChambeau, by the way, won’t be able to maintain that swing and hit the ball that far when he’s Mickelson’s age — in 23 years.
What has allowed Mickelson to play better as he gets older is his decision-making. In the final round of the PGA, he made a mistake on No. 13 by hitting his second shot into the water. However, he didn’t try to get everything back with one swing, as he might have in the past; he regained his composure, realizing he still held the lead, and got back to his business.
His short game has always been among the best, even if his putter has let him down on occasion.
Mickelson talked a couple of weeks ago about how hard it’s gotten to keep his focus on each shot for the four hours he’s on the course. That’s an issue with all older players, and Mickelson’s plan last week was to slow down and talk out each shot with his caddie, also his brother.
His pace of play wouldn’t have been welcomed on a weekend round with his buddies, but in that place and time, it was the right move. Another winning decision.
It’s most likely that Mickelson won’t win a seventh major championship, but he could. If you can win at 50, logic would follow that you can win at 51.
He’s learned to be more efficient and make fewer mistakes, more concerned about making the proper play instead of creating a highlight film.
It becomes as much mental as physical at this point for Mickelson, who deserves a lot of credit for his PGA victory. He didn’t have to dodge any blitzing linebacker or throw a football 30 yards, but his victory was just as impressive as Brady’s seventh Super Bowl championship.
Chad Courrier is the Free Press sports editor. He’s at 507-344-6353, email@example.com or on Twitter @ChadCourrier.