This ought to have been an outstanding week for Miller Brady. The PGA Tour Champions, of which Brady is president, began its season in Hawaii with more fanfare than usual thanks to the debut of Hall of Famer Ernie Els. Nor is Els the only major winner who will slather on the Bengay and saddle up for the senior circuit in 2020. Jim Furyk and Mike Weir both turn 50 on May 12, with Rich Beem following in August.
Yet for all the promise this year holds for Brady, it presents a problem too: Phil Mickelson.
In golf there are moments that define a player’s career, then moments that define his character.
Ernie Els has been favored with an abundance of the former. Like the U.S. Open at Oakmont a quarter-century ago, when he emerged as champion after 92 holes, needing extra innings on top of an 18-hole playoff. Or the four-way shootout at Muirfield in ’02, when he claimed the Open Championship. There were a couple other majors, 19 victories in all on the PGA Tour, more than 70 worldwide.
Only Phil Mickelson can challenge Els for the right to be called the second greatest golfer of the last 25 years.
There were major disappointments, too. A handful of nearlys at the Masters, a few at the PGA Championship, a gutting playoff loss to Todd Hamilton at Royal Troon in the ’04 Open. That one hurt. Legends aren’t supposed to lose to guys named Todd who bunt hybrids.
But one moment stands out as the measure of Theodore Ernest Els. It came three years ago at Augusta National, when his Masters ended after about 15 minutes, on the very first hole of the tournament. He six-putted from six feet.
Scott Parel is a throwback to the early charm of the senior circuit, when guys who had spent a career in golf’s obscure precincts – a Dana Quigley, a Mark Johnson – could author improbable Cinderella stories amid the seasoned winners collecting their reliable annuities.
That contrast in accomplishments will again be apparent this week when the PGA Tour Champions wraps its season with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club. Parel goes to Arizona second in the season-long standings, trailing only a man with more than 100 professional wins and north of $40 million in career earnings.
Bernhard Langer’s two biggest victories came at Augusta National. Parel lives a couple of miles from the famed club, but his one-way road in professional golf ran out of town.
This ought to be a week that Shaun Micheel savors, returning to a major championship where he can wrap himself in gauzy memories of his finest achievement. Instead, he approaches the 100th PGA Championship with a familiar gnawing anxiety, conscious that every mention of his “once upon a time” fairytale victory in 2003 brings detractors eager to emphasize the “once.”
“I look forward to getting back, but I have some trepidation about the noise that’s going to start appearing on social media before too long,” he said last weekend.
For much of its 31-year history, the Senior British Open delivered better quality venues than champions. For every Gary Player there was a Bruce Vaughan, for every Tom Watson a Tom Wargo. But even Vaughan won at Royal Troon and Wargo at Royal Lytham.
The tournament has grown in stature since becoming a major on the PGA Tour Champions. The fields are deeper and the faces more recognizable, but this is still an event where old men can chase fading dreams over a celebrated, rumpled links.
When that links is the Old Course in St. Andrews, which hosted the Senior Open for the first time last week, there are plenty more dreamers than the 156 spots in the field can accommodate. Even the old are not immune to the lure of the Old.
Two themes surface when you mention Jodie Mudd to guys who played the PGA Tour back then.
“Jodie used to have a gorgeous golf swing. He made the game look so simple.”
“I’m not sure anyone was really close to him.”
“Funny how you remember things about someone. He had a huge forward press as he started his swing. Then he just flushed it.”
“He was a quiet man.”
This week is when Mudd makes his annual appearance on Tour, albeit only as a ghostly figure on Players Championship highlight reels. It’s been 28 years since he won and almost that long since he walked away from the game.
Two years have passed since anchored putting was banned, but the USGA’s wording of the rule is still causing some consternation on the PGA Tour Champions. The two most dominant players in 2017—Bernhard Langer (below) and Scott McCarron—finished 1st and 2nd in Putting Average. Both use a long putter and a controversial method, that rules officials have declared legal. I wrote about the issue for Golfweek. You can read it here.