CHARLOTTE, N.C.—One hundred always has been a magic threshold in this game. Once you break 100, you tend to really think of yourself as a golfer and start to dream of doing much better. Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson are learning this week that 100 is just as meaningful when you come at it from the other direction.
Each of them is entered in the PGA Championship and each of them, starting on Thursday, will be playing in his 100th major. It is a magic number.
It means a golfer has been good enough and strong enough for long enough to compete against generations of the best. It puts a veteran in the company of 100-plus major golfers such as Jack Nicklaus (who played in a record 164). “That’s a heck of a list right there,” Els said during a news conference on Tuesday, when he saw a graphic of the group. “Those are all our mentors, our heroes.”
Getting to 100 makes a person think. “It goes by so fast, you don’t think about it,” Mickelson said. “We get to play golf, what most people do on vacation, as our job, and it’s the greatest job in the world.”
Fate did a great job of putting the two of them at the same threshold in the same tournament. They come from different countries, have traveled in different circles. But they share a deep mutual respect. Each is 47. Each has an easy smile. Each is identified by first name among golf fans. Each flourished (five major titles for Phil, four for Ernie) at a time when one other guy seemed unbeatable.
Who knows how many more majors they have in them? There is no debating that they have stood the test of time. Els’ first major was the 1989 British Open, when Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Weiskopf were in the field. Mickelson’s debut was the 1990 U.S. Open, in which Nicklaus played and which Hale Irwin won. “I got to 3- or 4-under par and I actually felt like if I made a few more birdies, I might have a chance,” he recalled yesterday, reflecting he was an optimist even as an amateur.
Both of them got a kick out of seeing a photo of their first meeting, at the 1984 Junior World Golf Championship in San Diego. It was Phil’s hometown, but Ernie won their age class. They were 14, the age of each man’s youngest child now.
Interesting that the official record of that tournament shows the champion of the Boys 9-10 division to be one Eldrick Woods, who would grow up to affect both of their lives.
Of course, Els and Mickelson had to be asked Tuesday how many more majors they might have won had Tiger chosen a different sport.
“Had Tiger not come around, I don’t feel I would have pushed myself to achieve what I ended up achieving, because he forced everybody to get the best out of themselves,” Mickelson said.
Els saw it differently. He had won a U.S. Open before Woods debuted and won another in Tiger’s rookie year. “I was ready to win quite a few, if you know what I mean. Then when Tiger came in ’97, him winning the Masters the way he did, you know, that kind of threw me off a little bit,” he said.
You wonder if Woods will play the 24 majors he needs to reach 100. And it has been a great career, a good life, for both 47-year-olds Mickelson said his peer’s greatest legacy is the Els for Autism Foundation. Els smiled when he said of the other man, “He’s a pretty good guy and, you know, a hell of a golfer.”
Each of them still tries whatever he can to do the best he can. The PGA of America brought in a cake for them, Els had a little slice, Mickelson none at all.
Both left the media center happy. They hit 100 and they’re not broken.
Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson are each playing in their 100th major championship this week. For Davis Love, it’s his 99th major. These are the members of the Century Club for golf majors:
No. GolferMajors won