PGA notebook: Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els reach 100 majors
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els put their tees in the ground today, they will become only the 13th and 14th professional golfers to play in their 100th major.
It is a remarkable feat that speaks not only to their longevity and resilience but also to the staying power of their individual games, which have been conjoined since they faced off at the 1984 Junior World Golf Championship in San Diego.
Between them, they’ve won nine majors (Mickelson five, Els four), and as the two gazed at a list of the other 12 who have reached this milestone, Els said, “That’s a heck of a list right there. Those are all our mentors, our heroes. .?.?. It means that we’ve done it properly, in a good way.”
Topping the list, as he does almost every list in golf, is Jack Nicklaus at 164. It is a number neither man is likely to reach, but the achievement still is impressive.
“It just goes by so fast you don’t think about it,” Mickelson said. “It’s been a lot of fun. We get to play golf, what most people do on vacation, as our job. It’s the greatest job in the world. .?.?. We’ve both been fortunate to have won some. I know we both want to win a couple more.”
Els’ first major appearance was the British Open at Royal Troon in Scotland in 1989. A year later, Mickelson made his major championship debut in the 1990 U.S. Open. How long ago was it?
“You see the wooden driver there?” Els said when a photo was flashed of him at Royal Troon. “Those were the good old days.”
Respect for Tiger
As his peers prepared for today’s first round, Tiger Woods was agreeing to plead guilty in Florida to reckless driving and enter a diversion program that will allow his record to be wiped clean.
Woods is the last player to win back-to-back PGA titles in 2006 and 2007, but that was a decade and a ton of drama ago. He hasn’t played in more than a year and hasn’t won a major in nearly a decade, yet his shadow always seems to linger.
“I feel as though had Tiger not come along, 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. “He forced everybody to work a little bit harder.”
Els already had won majors before Woods seized control of the game.
“I won a couple early on, so I was kind of ready to win quite a few, if you know what I mean,” Els said. “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.
“He got us to really elevate our games, brought so much more attention to the sport, and obviously a lot more dollars to play for. So we’ve got to thank him.”
Hitting it long
Local pro Rich Berberian, who now plays out of Vesper Country Club in Tyngsboro, blasted a 302-yard shot in Tuesday’s Long Drive contest, just missing the top 10. Jason Kokrak was the winner with a 321-yard shot that only rolled out a little because of wet conditions.
Berberian, who is the director of instruction at Vesper, is making his second appearance in the PGA Championship. He is one of 20 club pros teeing it up in today’s first round. Seven sons of PGA club pros have won the PGA Championship, including Keegan Bradley, whose dad once was a club pro in Hopkinton before moving to Jackson Hole in Wyoming.
Berberian won the 2016 PGA Professional Championship at Turning Stone in Verona, N.Y., by holing a 33-foot putt on the 18th hole. He also was the 2016 PGA Professional Player of the Year, an annual award to the top club pro.
The field of 156 for the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow includes 97 of the top 100 players in the latest world rankings.
Seventy-three international players from 25 countries will tee off in today’s first round. There also are also 30 major champions in the field who have combined to capture 49 championships. Thirteen of those are former PGA champions, including each of the past eight winners.
Fruit cakes abound
Some things you might want to ignore if you could, but Paul Claxton really has no choice.
A PGA club professional, Claxton married into the family that has owned Claxton Fruit Cakes (an ironic name) since 1948. The company cranks out five million pounds of fruitcakes a year. His wife insisted they live in Claxton, Ga., the town being the company’s namesake.
The town’s water tower proudly proclaims Claxton as “Fruitcake Capital of the World.” Don’t even ask.