As golf celebrated the 200th anniversary of Old Tom Morris’ birth yesterday, another decorated auld yin of this Royal & Ancient game was blowing out the candles as he added 12 more months to the clock.

Four weeks ago, at a nifty 50, Phil Mickelson became the oldest major winner ever with his age-defying victory in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Old Tom, who won the last of his four Opens at a sprightly 46 back in 1867, would’ve doffed his bunnet in appreciation.

Fresh from turning 51 yesterday, Mickelson has got all and sundry thinking the unthinkable again as he aims for the career grand slam at the US Open in his home city of San Diego. 

Admittedly, it’s like pining for the kind of misty-eyed, romantic outcome you’d get at the end of a Mills & Boon novel but, in a game that often conjures tales of the unexpected, we can but dream.

“To win two majors in a row is asking too much … but I’d love to be wrong,” said the former European Tour winner turned television analyst Andrew Coltart. “You can make fun of me as much as you like if he does it. The US PGA was one of the most incredible stories in golf but I can’t see it being replicated. Kiawah required a tremendous amount of golfing intelligence. The width of the fairways there, though, was much less intimidating than this week at Torrey Pines.”

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Coltart remains a huge admirer of Mickelson’s competitive longevity. Thirty years ago, when they were both 20-year-old amateurs, they went head-to-head in the singles of the 1991 Walker Cup at Portmarnock and Mickelson won 4&3. 

“He was Tiger before Tiger,” reflected Coltart. “He’d already won a PGA Tour event as an amateur prior to that Walker Cup and he was on his way to being a superstar. His swing was a lot less violent then but he was still a bit wild off the tee. Nobody at that time thought, ‘I wonder if he’ll make it?’. We knew he would.”

Here in 2021, Mickelson, who has been runner-up six times in the US Open, is still going strong. Coltart, meanwhile, stepped away from the touring scene nearly a decade ago as his strength of shot-making became overwhelmed by, well, pure strength in a more crash, bang, wallop age of increasing distances.

“I was tempted to prolong my career watching the likes of Jerry Kelly, Kenny Perry and Fred Funk still challenging as they got older,” said the former Ryder Cup player. “You think ‘perhaps my best golf is still to come?’ but in reality I was sick of my inability to compete and had no regrets about stopping.”

As well as the quest of golden oldie Mickelson on another silver lining this week, the on-going Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau sideshow will continue to generate intrigue. Whether you think it’s a genuine, heated rivalry or a contrived, faux-feud designed to steal a march on the PGA Tour’s $40m social media-driven Player Impact Program, there’s no denying that the recent verbal sparring has generated wider interest. It’s certainly been lapped up by the more boisterous elements of the US galleries.

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But is po-faced, pious old golf not supposed to be above all this? “Look at the Ryder Cup,” Coltart added. “We invite sports mad people from different walks of life and they provide an atmosphere like nothing else in golf. And they are not normal golf fans. We are now effectively encouraging talking points (with the Player Impact Program) but you can’t encourage with one hand and pull away with the other. We’re either all in or all out. And if we’re all out, then fewer people will be interested.

“There’s this sterile attitude in golf that everybody has to love everybody else and that’s just not possible. There are people you get annoyed with so what’s wrong with saying that? It’s naïve to think the players are all best buddies. If one player knows they can say something that will niggle the other, then that’s a great position to be in. It happens in every other sport so why not golf?”

Coltart’s only US Open outing was in 1997 at a daunting Congressional that was as enjoyable as convict labour. “I don’t suffer claustrophobia but that week I felt short of breath in this confined space,” he said. “You couldn’t relax on any shot. I hated every minute of it.”