With three Masters titles, Phil Mickelson is in rare company considering only eight golfers in the history of the legendary golf tournament have won at least that many times. Mickelson will take another crack at Augusta National this month, hoping to record PGA Tour victory No. 45.
But before Mickelson aims to add to his legacy at the famed Georgia course, let's take a look at how "Lefty" got to this point — as one of the greatest golfers of all time.
Phil Mickelson wasn't a child golf prodigy like. say, Tiger Woods, but he did start playing golf at a young age. He learned from his father, Phil Sr., before he was school age. The two often played in the backyard of their San Diego home, where a young Phil spent hours working on his famed short game.
Mickelson was already an established collegiate star when he won the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club outside Denver. The 20-year-old Mickelson beat Manny Zerman, 5 and 4, to become the first left-handed golfer to win the U.S. Amateur. He was also the first left-hander to win any USGA event since 1988.
While the NCAA individual national championships and the U.S. Amateur title were nice, what really put Mickelson on the radar within the golf world came after he won the 1991 PGA Tour's Northern Telecom Open at age 20. According to the PGA, it was the sixth — and still most recent — time an amateur won a PGA Tour event. Mickelson was also the low amateur at the Masters that same year.
Only two golfers in NCAA history have won three individual national titles. Ben Crenshaw, for the University of Texas, is one and Mickelson, with Arizona State, is the other. The left-handed star won his final championship in 1992 and was a three-time winner (1990-92) of the Haskins Award, honoring the country's top collegiate golfer.
Shortly after winning his third and final NCAA national title, Mickelson turned pro in 1992. Not too long after that, he began a long-time professional relationship with caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay. With "Bones" on the bag, Mickelson won his first PGA Tour event as a pro at the Buick Invitational in February 1993.
Lefty has had a few Hollywood moments during his career — and we are not including his many commercials, good or bad. His big-screen debut, however, came with a cameo while credited as a "PGA Tour Golfer," according IMDB, in the 1996 Kevin Costner vehicle "Tin Cup." Mickelson's appearance on the set also produced one of the all-time great golf bet stories, as legend has it.
Mickelson had already recorded 13 PGA Tour victories when the 2000 Buick Invitational rolled around. Playing at Torrey Pines in his hometown of San Diego, Mickelson held a seven-shot lead over Tiger Woods — who was trying for a seventh straight Tour win — on the seventh hole of the final round. However, Mickelson hit a rough patch and Woods actually caught him on the 13th. Lefty, though, dug deep and birdied four of the final six holes to end Woods' run.
By 2004, Mickelson was branded "The Best Golfer Never to Win a Major." Not exactly a pleasant moniker, but one that was starting to put pressure on the star. It took some time on the PGA Tour, but Mickelson finally captured that elusive major by winning the 2004 Masters. He did so in dramatic fashion, rallying on the back 9 and sinking an 18-footer at the 18th on Sunday.
When Mickelson won the non-sanctioned PGA Grand Slam of Golf in November 2004, he did so thanks to a blistering score of 59 in the final round. However, since it was not considered an official Tour event, Mickelson's rare gem won't be found in any of the record books. He just missed another 59, that would have counted, when he settled for a 60 at this year's Desert Classic.
One of the more disappointing moments in Mickelson's on-course career came with his famed collapse at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Phil was aiming for a third consecutive major victory and shared the lead heading into the final round. However, in one of the more memorable fold jobs in the history of the sport, Mickelson bogeyed No. 16 and double-bogeyed 18, thanks to a terrible drive and more judgement on his second shot, to end up tied for second, one shot back of winner Geoff Ogilvy.
The U.S. Open is still the only major tournament that Mickelson has not won. With perhaps the memory of 2006's collapse still lingering, Lefty failed to make the cut in 2007 at Oakmont. His two-round stay ended the star's run of 30 consecutive made cuts at majors. It was reported that Mickelson was dealing with a wrist injury at the time.
Golf and sports fans got to truly see the human side of Mickelson in May 2009 when it was announced that his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her husband walked away from the game momentarily to be with his wife and family, and Mickelson's fellow PGA Tour members showed their support by incorporating pink in their outfits — including John Daly, who wore pink pants during an event.
With his wife, Amy, recovering and doing well after the breast cancer was caught in a relatively early stage, Mickelson announced that he was set to return to the links in June of 2009. At the U.S. Open that year, Mickelson once again led on Sunday but could not hold on and finished second at the event for the fifth time in his career.
As if dealing with wife's bout with breast cancer was not enough, Mickelson now learned his mother, Mary, was dealing with the same disease in July 2009. Lefty once again put his game on hold, missing the Open Championship that year. He ended up returning to action in August and won the Tour Championship in September.
Mickelson has enjoyed many special victories during his illustrious golf career, but perhaps none was as emotional as his 2010 Masters triumph. For Mickelson the win came less than a year after both his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer. Following his victory, all eyes were on emotional Mickelson, who hugged caddie "Bones" Mackay then did the same with wife, Amy.
While the Masters victory was the highlight of Mickelson's 2010 calendar year, the lowlight perhaps came when he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis later that season. While the health issue had not taken a major toll on his game, Mickelson began receiving medical treatment and also became a vegetarian to help the recovery process.
In February 2012, Mickelson posted PGA Tour victory No. 40 at Pebble Beach and won the Phoenix Open the following February. It was in July 2013 that Lefty won what is still his most recent major victory. After winning the Scottish Open, Mickelson captured major No. 5 by carding birdies on four of the last six holes to win the Open Championship at Muirfield by three strokes. He called his Sunday 66 "arguably the best round of my career."
At the time, most didn't think that the 2013 Open Championship title was going to be the last time in a long while that Mickelson would win an event. That was the case, however, as injuries and inconsistencies plagued the superstar. Phil missed the cut at the 2014 Masters for the first time since 1997. He struggled at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship before finishing second at the PGA Championship that year. He tied for second at the Masters in 2015 but has cracked the top 10 just once over his next 14 majors. From 2014-17, Mickelson did not win a single PGA Tour event, leaving some to wonder whether he would ever seriously contend again.
While Mickelson struggled on the course, he also had some issues off it. After being cleared of insider trading in 2014, he was again in the spotlight for a similar charge in 2016. It also came up at that time that Mickelson had racked up some hefty gambling debts. Though Lefty was forced to pay interest off the profit for a stock, he never faced any criminal charges.
Mickelson didn't win the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon, but most years he would have claimed the event without much trouble. He shot a course-record 63 to open play and led after two rounds, but Henrik Stenson was better. A resurgent Mickelson, of sorts, fired a final-round 65, but Stenson was two shots better on the day and won the tournament by three. Phil's four-round 267 was a record low for a runner-up at the Open Championship.
After 25 years together, Mickelson and caddie "Bones" Mackay announced they were parting ways in June 2017. The news came as a surprise to the golf world, and while there have been rumors as to why they split, the company line remained that it was just time. Mackay was on the bag for 42 of Mickelson's victories, including all five major titles.
For the first time since his Open Championship victory in 2013, Mickelson was back holding the winner's trophy at a PGA Tour event. Lefty won his third WGC title, this time at the WGC-Mexico Championship in March 2018. Mickelson needed to beat Justin Thomas in a playoff, and he did so to once again call himself a champion.
There was plenty of controversy surrounding Mickelson's selection as a captain's pick for the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Critics didn't think his game was solid enough for this competition. And they were right. Playing in his record 12th, and possibly last, Ryder Cup, Mickelson lost the only two matches — in convincing fashion — that he took part in as the Americans fell 17 1/2 to 10 1/2 in Paris.
Made-for-TV golf events have an element of cheesiness to them, and many were waiting to lambast Mickelson and Woods for their Black Friday 2018, one-on-one, pay-per-view event titled "The Match." While there were issues on the pay-per-view end and the screen was busy at times, the golf was actually entertaining. In the end, Mickelson beat Woods on the fourth extra hole to claim the $9,000,000 pot.
At age 48, Mickelson is showing he can still hang with the best in the world. Lefty recorded career victory No. 44 — ninth all time — when he beat Paul Casey by three strokes to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. Mickelson carded a final-round 65 and did not record a bogey to become the oldest golfer to win the prestigious event.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.