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      Phil, thrills and goodwill show game in great place

      By CHUAH CHOO CHIANG | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-17 08:55
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      Phil Mickelson of the United States plays his shot from the second tee during a practice round prior to the start of the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, California on June 15, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

      Phil Mickelson, Lee Kyoung-hoon and Justin Thomas are about as different as they come, but the trio all delivered standout moments on the PGA Tour recently to show the beautiful game of golf is in a great place and thriving for the right reasons.

      One tale was about winning, another about dreaming, and the third was on giving.

      Belonging to a generation of greats which includes Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, the left-handed Mickelson, who turned 51 on Wednesday, would have been forgiven if he had chosen to wind down his Hall of Fame career on the over-50 circuit.

      However, 'Phil the Thrill' showed he wasn't done just yet competing against the young guns, and displayed what winning truly means with his heart-stopping victory at the PGA Championship in May to become the oldest major champion in history.

      Naysayers often say no one in their 50s should be contending, let alone winning majors. However, golf is such a wonderful sport that Mickelson defied Father Time, inconsistent form-he registered only one top-10 finish in 18 previous starts-and a chasing pack led by Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen to secure his improbable but well-deserved sixth career major.

      So, what is the secret to Mickelson's longevity?

      It appears to be a combination of coffee, meditation and an undiminished competitive instinct as he struck a winning chord for the so-called oldies. "My desire to play is the same," explained Mickelson, now a 45-time PGA Tour winner.

      "I've always been intrinsically motivated because I love to compete, I love playing the game. I love having opportunities to play against the best at the highest level. That's what drives me, and I think the belief I could still do it inspired me to work harder."

      Age catches up with everybody, especially at the highest level of any sport, but Mickelson has refused to ride off into the sunset. He has not lost any of his speed, and in fact pounded a monster 366-yard (335-meter) drive during the final round of the PGA to outdrive playing partner Koepka, a man who is 20 years younger, by five yards on the 16th hole with the tournament on the line.

      In the middle of 2019, Mickelson embarked on a six-day fast and consumed only coffee and water. Coffee supposedly increases the metabolism rate and reduces hunger pangs. Lefty wanted a "hard reset" and subsequently lost seven kilograms.

      Still, there were hurdles to overcome. He lamented his inability to maintain focus and took to meditation sessions.

      South Korea's Lee was also doing plenty of visualizing work during his days on the Korn Ferry Tour, but his method seemed to be more of the dreamy kind.

      "Almost every night I dream of this," Lee said about his aspirations to win on the PGA Tour. "It would be amazing."

      With a solid amateur career behind him-Lee won the gold medal with the South Korean team at the 2010 Asian Games-he subsequently won twice both in South Korea and Japan before chasing his American dream.

      The 29-year-old was duly rewarded following a three-stroke victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson as he became the eighth Korean winner on the PGA Tour. Korean great KJ Choi's presence by the 18th green made it extra special.

      "I didn't know he was waiting and I was very thankful. He said many nice things and it was an honor to have him there for my win. He's the big daddy," said Lee, who now hopes his breakthrough will inspire other Korean kids back home.

      "I grew up watching the PGA Tour and wished to become part of it. I think our performance would make kids feel the same way now. I think they will try harder to come over."

      Making the grade at the highest level takes hard work, talent and some luck. So, when mini-tour regular Michael Visacki Monday-qualified for the Valspar Championship to earn his first ever PGA Tour start, his reaction on a video call with his father made US national news. "I made it," he sobbed on the phone.

      Although the 27-year-old missed the cut, Visacki's story earned him a sponsor's exemption to the Charles Schwab Challenge where he received a surprise text message from 2017 FedExCup champion Justin Thomas, who invited him to play a practice round together. Thomas went a step further later in the week by giving Visacki a check to help chase his dream.

      "I know Q-School's expensive, I know playing in these events is expensive, and like any little way I can help out, I want to," Thomas said.

      "We're all out here trying to win golf tournaments, but changing people's lives and helping people who are less fortunate than you is sometimes more important."

      Winning, dreaming and giving-oh, what a wonderful game golf is.

      The writer is senior director of international marketing and communications for the PGA Tour's Asia Pacific division.

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