Mickelson, Els set to make 100th major start

Marco Green
August 9, 2017

And, as part of the ceremony, the two were reminded - in the form of an old photograph of them together - of the first time they met: at the Junior World Golf Championships in 1984 in San Diego when they were mere teenagers.

Each of them is entered in the PGA Championship and each of them, starting on Thursday, will be playing in his 100th major. Mickelson had collected just one major since 2006, and Ernie was 10 years removed from his last win at the 2002 British Open. Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange was quoted as calling Els the "next god".

"That's a heck of a list right there", Els said. It just sounded the other way because of his thick Virginia accent. Both were 14 years old and it was Els, the young South African making his first trip to the US, who beat Mickelson, the local prodigy, for the title. Third hole, par 5, 20 yards short of the green, and Els hit a skipping, spinning pitch that checked a foot from the cup. Els, on the putting green hopeful of a playoff, heard the ground-shaking roar, picked up his golf balls and walked off. Of course it was Els, who was crushed, after thinking his Sunday 67 would be enough for his first green jacket.

For the impressive feat, the PGA of America honored Mickelson and Els on Tuesday. That number represents a rare sustained level of excellence - evidenced by just 12 players having played in 100 or more majors, led by Jack Nicklaus' record 164.

Els recalled his first one, the 1989 Open Championship at Royal Troon, when he sported a bad haircut, wielded a persimmon driver and employed his brother as caddie.

If Els' story of major championship triumph and tragedy is protracted, then Mickelson's is downright Shakespearean.

The question inquiring minds wanted to know was whether each multiple-major victor (five for Lefty, The Big Easy has four) would have chalked up a boatload more of such titles if Tiger had eschewed golf for another sport.

- He has 35 top-10s in majors, three fewer than Mickelson's 38. We had a great time. "It started in a very nice, sunny handsome place in San Diego". "I never thought we'd be playing against each other for life". I think his fighting spirit speaks for itself.

"But, you know, I could have had a couple more, definitely, without him around", Els said with a smile. "That's (25) years of playing majors. Wow". "It doesn't seem that long ago from those days, but it sure looks like a long time ago". Last month, Els was named one of the four finalists for the Sports Humanitarian of the Year for his efforts to help children with autism, like his son, Ben. Amanda Mickelson is headed to Brown. They each contend that the fire to compete, to win, still burns. "Those are all our mentors, our heroes", Els said.

"It's incredible that we've played together and against each other for so long", Els said. But it's a hell of a thrill.

They also had to settle for being second fiddle in the generation that was Tiger Woods.

Els, a four-time major champ, however, had a slightly different take. He had won a U.S. Open before Woods debuted and won another in Tiger's rookie year.

Surely, players of their vast talents would mop up against any other generation, but both competed in the middle of the Tiger Era. Woods was as tough a rival as anyone would face, though Els and Mickelson say they relished the challenge.

Mickelson took a little longer to grab his first major, but as Mickelson has said multiple times and repeated again on Tuesday: "I believed that once I won one, I would win multiple". "He forced everybody to look at fitness as a big part of the game of golf, and I think that's actually helped me with longevity ... trying to stay flexible ... to elongate the career". "I think that's the real challenge, because each major provides such a different set of challenges". He expected to win more. And then when Tiger came in '97, and him winning the Masters in the way he did, you know, that kind of threw me off a little bit.

"I was ready to win quite a few", he offered with no discernible bravado. He absolutely changed the game. "We get to play golf, what most people do on vacation, as our job, and it's the greatest job in the world".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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