As the PGA Tour season hits full stride, my thoughts have turned toward next month’s U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills in New York. I keep thinking that we are going to be treated to at least one more duel “of the ages” — a battle between either Tiger or Phil and one or more of today’s young stars like Rickie Fowler, Rory McIllroy, Jordan Spieth, or new world number one Justin Thomas.
But as I hope for this fantastic finish in the future, I also find myself reflecting on the history I’ve witnessed and the historical significance of what could unfold in front of us.
Numbers matter in golf. And while I think today’s game is actually over analyzed with statistics, there is one set of statistical figures that can’t be affected with good or bad swings — age.
As a sports and history fan, I started thinking about just how historical some of the scenarios I’m hoping for would be.
Phil Mickelson could complete the career grand slam with a U.S. Open win this summer.
Tiger Woods is four majors shy of Jack Nicklaus’ magical 18. Can he win four more over the next five-10 years to catch The Golden Bear?
To help put these scenarios in context, I spent some time on Wikipedia this week for relative numbers.
Phil Mickelson will be 48 the Saturday of the U.S. Open. A win there would set several age related records:
He would become the oldest U.S. Open winner by almost three years. Hale Irwin was 45 when he won his second U.S. Open in 1990.
He would become the second oldest major winner ever, just behind Julius Boros’1968 PGA Championship at 48 and four months and passing Old Tom Morris’s 1867 British Open win in 1867 at age 46.
And maybe my personal favorite, he would become the oldest career grand slam winner, completing his slam at age 48. There are only five career grand slammers right now. Gene Sarazen completed his at 33, Nicklaus at 26, Tiger at 25, Gary Player at 29 and Ben Hogan at 40.
I personally think Lefty will be one of my favorites next month. He’s played well at Shinnecock in the past. He loves playing in front of the NY crowd. The NY crowd loves him. His birthday is that Saturday. Etc. etc. Phil winning his U.S. Open at 48 at Shinnecock just makes sense. But looking at the numbers, it would be something special if it happened.
Tiger’s chase of Nicklaus’ 18 would be even more amazing. Tiger, at 42, needs four more majors to tie Nicklaus. So how many golfers have won four majors over the age of 42? That would be … zero.
In fact, only two people have won two majors over the age of 42. ulius Boros won at 43 and 48. And Old Tom Morris in the 1800s won at 43 and 46.
Jack Nicklaus, the man Tiger is chasing, won one major after 42 — the magical 1986 Masters.
Now let’s be clear, Tiger exceeded every expectation and beat basically every record possible over a 10 year stretch. I don’t think he’ll ever get back to that level. But I’m not going to write Tiger’s chase off simply because it hasn’t been done before. He’s proven that theory wrong too many times.
So here’s to the “old guys” this summer. Hopefully they put on one more show for us. And if they do, hopefully we enjoy the heck out of it. Because based on the numbers, it would be something special.
Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a Sunday golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at Jonah@thekarzmerinsurance.com.