For the purposes of this royal & ancient study, let’s establish two parameters:
1. I’m defining “old,” by professional golf standards only, as 45 and above. Cruel? Sure. Justified by the numbers? Also yes. This is why you’ll see scant mention of someone like Vijay Singh, who, despite being very good to a ripe old age, won his last events at age 45 on the nose. That’s still on the borderline of “middle-aged” in professional golf terms.
2. Success, by my terms, will be measured mostly by wins. This is perhaps unfair—a golfer who repeatedly earns top-10 finishes late into his career certainly deserves a lot of credit. But I chose the word “greatness” for the title on purpose, and “greatness” to me means hoisting the hardware, bad back and creaky knees be damned.
3. No senior tours will be considered.
With that behind us, there’s something about Phil Mickelson that feels timeless, and that probably has something to do with the way he looks—he ages only imperceptibly—and even more to do with a risk-positive, scandal-seeking personality that has not ebbed with time and lends him a boyish/roguish aura. Nevertheless, he is no spring chicken, and is, in fact, a bona fide Old Man Golfer (OMG): 48, at last check, and closer to 49, his birthday comes this June on the Sunday of the final round of the U.S. Open (and coincidentally Father’s Day). And with his big win at Pebble Beach this past weekend, and his triumph at the WGC in Mexico last year, he’s already thrown his hat in the ring as one of the best OMGs in the history of the sport.
But is he the absolute best?
A good place to start is this article on PGA.com published last year after Phil’s win in Mexico. It begins with an eye-opening stat:
“There have been 901 events played on the PGA Tour this century. With Phil Mickelson’s win in March in the WGC-Mexico Championship at age 47, it was just the 18th time in those 901 events that a player age 47 or older has won.”
The PGA Tour’s Mike McAllister also tweeted out every winner since 2000 over the age of 47:
Since that time, Phil has added another notch to his belt, this time at Pebble Beach. He also, importantly, holds the biggest trophy of any PGA Tour winner over 47—the WGC in Mexico.
That said, there are a few modern PGA Tour contenders in the discussion. Kenny Perry put together five wins between ages 47 and 48, which tops the list by volume, and he also put together one of the great OMG Ryder Cups ever with 2½ points at Valhalla in 2008 at age 48. Davis Love III is the oldest post-2000 winner at 51, and Craig Stadler also managed to win after his 50th birthday. Fred Funk shines with particular brightness—he won three events after age 48, and is one of just three men to triumph after 50 in the new millennium.
The PGA Tour’s Doug Milne was kind enough to send me a list of tour winners 45 and older since 1970, and it adds a couple names to the list of OMG greats: Miller Barber, who won twice at 46; Hale Irwin, who captured two wins at age 45 (including the U.S. Open) and another at 48 and 49; Scott Hoch, who took three titles after 45; Loren Roberts, two-time winner at 45 and 47; Mark Calcavecchia, Gene Littler and Don January, who all won two times at 45 and 46.
Going back in time, Sam Snead is clearly the OMG GOAT. Not only is he the oldest winner in PGA Tour history, having claimed the Greater Greensboro Open at age 52, but he won a record seven tournaments after age 45.
What about Europe? Well, in a list of players who have won after age 46, only one man appears more than once. That would be El Mecánico, Miguel Angel Jimenez, who actually appears five times, including once past the magical age of 50—the only man to win past that threshold in Europe.
Of course, these tour rundowns do not include the most important tournaments of all: majors. Mickelson’s last major came in 2013 at the Open Championship, at age 43 and one month. It’s one of the oldest major victories ever, but it just missed—by a matter of months—the all-time top-10 list. That murderer’s row includes Julius Boros, the oldest winner ever at 48 years, four months, Old Tom Morris (living up to his name), and the most famous OMG major winner, Jack Nicklaus. In fact, as you’d guess, this list skews younger than the PGA or European Tour—it’s much harder for anyone to win a major, and only five men age 45 and older have pulled off the feat. Nobody has done it twice. For Nicklaus, who was 46 the time of his 1986 Masters victory, the green jacket was his only victory of any kind after age 45.
Now seems like a good time to mention Tom Watson, who won two events after 45, had an eight-foot putt on the 72nd hole at the Open Championship to win a major at the ridiculous age of 59. If that had gone down, he would be the king of the OMGs, forever, because nobody is ever going to come that close again.
Alas, he left it short, and as it stands, Phil Mickelson would become the oldest major winner in professional golf history if he could capture another. There’s plenty of talk about him finally winning a U.S. Open, which will be played this year at Pebble Beach, the same course he just conquered. Though Phil himself threw cold water on that notion, the narrative will no doubt persist. If that happens, or if he wins any other premier event (including another WGC or a Players), he’ll have a terrific argument for top OMG.
Until then, he’s close to the peak but not quite there. And now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is—here, by my estimation, are the OMG GOATS.
Honorable Mention: John Barnum. He gets special recognition because he won exactly one time in his career—at age 51.
10. Scott Hoch: three titles after 45, nips Vijay Singh because his last came at 47.
9. Tom Watson: two titles after 46, and a brush with unthinkable history at ‘09 Open.
8. Davis Love III: oldest modern winner on PGA Tour.
7. Phil Mickelson: second-biggest win among golfers age 47 or older at the WGC-Mexico, 2½ points at 2016 Ryder Cup at age 46.
6. Fred Funk: three wins after 48, one of seven people ever to win on PGA Tour after 50.
5. Kenny Perry: five titles between 47 and 48, two holes away from winning the Masters at 48.
4. Miguel Angel Jimenez: OMG king of Europe, only man to win past 50 in Europe.
3. Hale Irwin: four wins and a major championship after 45.
2. Julius Boros: five titles past 45, and the oldest major champion.
1. Sam Snead: seven titles past 45, oldest winner of any PGA or European Tour event.