Dressed in black from top to toe and looking every inch as if he’d just stepped out from a Western movie, Phil Mickelson rode into Mexico City last week and with some mighty fine sharp shooting made off with a World Golf Championship title, the lion’s share of the loot and his 50th worldwide tournament victory. The real reason it’s newsworthy is because it’s been a long time between drinks for Mickelson. The last time he hoisted a trophy was in July 2013 when he won the Open Championship at Muirfield and many felt that that could be his swan song. Needless to say, he didn’t think that, and how right he has been proved.
We have very short memories when it comes to sport and sporting achievement. Through our television screens we are assaulted by outstanding sporting prowess from around the globe, seemingly morning, noon and night. We become sanitised to the sheer brilliance of what we are watching and think of it as the norm. To many golf fans Mickelson has been in the wilderness for almost five years – but, in reality, that’s not true at all. He’s had three runner-ups in major championships in the intervening time, which for many wouldn’t be a bad career. Sure, he hasn’t been firing on all cylinders – but that’s just the point. It’s simply not possible to occupy the thin air of ultimate performance year after year after year.This is his 26th year as a professional golfer during which time he has amassed almost $87 million in prize money – a truly colossal amount of dosh. Coming down the stretch, however, it was fascinating to watch his total concentration, immersion and relish in the cut and thrust of the competition. He was testing himself to the limit against the world’s best and it was the prestige of winning that drove him on – not the money, just the title. Phil’s desire hasn’t been dimmed over the years and his success is the accumulation of many tiny habits over many decades. Resilience is key. “I can’t put into words how much this means to me,” he said, dewy-eyed.
Michelle Wie is another player who demonstrates resilience on a long term basis and who tasted success this past weekend in Singapore. Her last win was the 2014 US Women’s Open and since then she has done her best to weather injuries to seemingly every part of her body. Even now she takes to the links in near-mummified fashion, arms and legs swathed in tape. Although a mere 28 years of age and almost two decades younger than Mickelson, Michelle has played professionally for 12 years, every single second of it under the most intense spotlight. And, as my sister is always telling me (as if she had personal experience!): “Nothing weighs you down like great potential.”Wie has displayed courage in abundance over a long period, refusing to be cowed by carping criticism of her scheduling, her various putting styles, the close attendance of her parents, to name but three things. She has dealt graciously with everything and is up there with the best in terms of stickability. Coming down the last few holes on Sunday you could see her ability to go inwards into herself to produce her best at the very end when she holed a monster of a putt of 40 feet or so from off the putting surface for a birdie at the 18th. Her ecstatic celebration said it all – the thrill of winning and beating the rest of the best was everything to her. Every setback, every physio session, every second of graft on the course and in the gym was worth it for that single moment . No wonder we had another dewy-eyed winner saying, “This feels really, truly amazing.”
Meanwhile, down in Australia 23-year old Englishwoman Meghan MacLaren won the NSW Open, her first LET title. In only her second year in the paid ranks she has enjoyed a steady progression, working her way up via the secondary LET Access tour and on Sunday she held her nerve and her two-shot overnight lead to claim victory. With her father, David, the CEO of the Staysure (European Seniors) Tour, on the bag and Mum Mary, an Ireland senior international, enduring a sleepless night back at home (nails bitten down to the quick, no doubt), it was a real family affair.Younger sister Rebecca is a fine player in her own right and as Meghan’s support group they will all be right there as she attempts to tread the path already followed by the likes of Wie and Mickelson. Meghan hasn’t yet amassed the millions that the other two have but I’m pretty sure that the winner’s cheque was fairly incidental, albeit a very welcome bonus. It’s the winning that delivers the thrill and provides the fuel for future years of quiet, sustained, often solitary, effort. As Meghan, who couldn’t stop smiling, said, “It feels incredible.” As Robert Collier (1885-1950), author of The Secret of the Ages, said: “Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in day out.” [Thanks to Shann of Chuckling Goat for the quote.] That is clearly evident in the three winners from the weekend but it’s also a valid mantra for us all in our own lives, whatever stage we’re at.