Where Does Phil Mickelson Stand Amongst the All-Time Greats?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2013

July 21, 2013; Gullane, United Kingdom; Phil Mickelson winning the 2013 The Open Championship trophy at Muirfield Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Paul Cunningham-USA TODAY Sports
Paul Cunningham-USA TODAY Sports

Professional golf has been played in at least some capacity since 1860 when the first ever Open Championship was held at Prestwick Golf Club.

Since that time the number of truly great golfers can literally be counted on two hands.

Only three players have ever won more than 10 major championships, and only 19 have won more than five.

Prior to the 2013 Open Championship, Phil Mickelson was right on the cusp of moving into any discussion about the greatest golfers of all time.

Nineteen players had won more majors than Mickelson prior to the 2013 Open Championship, while Mickelson ranked ninth in total PGA Tour victories.

At this point, most golf historians would have probably placed Mickelson within their list of top 20 greatest golfers of all time. But few, if any, would have really considered Mickelson as one of the top 10 greatest golfers of all time.

Well, that has all changed with Mickelson’s recent Open Championship victory at Muirfield.

Mickelson’s victory at the 2013 Open Championship has catapulted him to a whole new level in terms of his historical standing in the game and has at the very least entered him into the conversation around the greatest golfers of all time.

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Mickelson currently ranks ninth in total PGA Tour victories, which is just three behind Walter Hagen. And following his Open Championship victory there are now just 13 men in the history of the game who have won more major championships than Mickelson. Based on these numbers alone you could make a strong argument for Mickelson being considered one of the top 10 greatest golfers of all time.

But this argument can certainly be strengthened when looking beyond just the number of PGA Tour and major championship victories.

For one, Mickelson’s career is by no means finished. Barring any sharp decline over the next few years, Mickelson will likely win at least 50 PGA Tour events, which would place him eighth or better on the PGA Tour’s all-time win list.

Should he manage to win another major championship at some point in his career, he would be tied for 12th all-time in major championship victories.

We also have to consider that this level of success Mickelson has enjoyed occurred during a period of time when there was unprecedented global growth in the game, not to mention that Mickelson’s entire career coincided with that of arguably the most dominant golfer in the history of the gameTiger Woods.

This, of course, points to the level of competition Mickelson has had to face throughout his career.

Between Woods going on streaks where he’d win 40 percent of all tournaments he entered and the globalization of the game, which has brought outstanding talent from all over the world onto the PGA Tour and into golf’s four major championships, Mickelson’s career has progressed during arguably the most competitive era in the history of the sport.

So where does Mickelson currently stand?

Well, right now we have the true big dogs in the game’s historythe likes of Jack Nicklaus, Woods, Hagen, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones.

After these five men, we’d have a second tier of all-time greats that would include the likes of Gary Player, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Harry Vardon.

A third tier would include players such as Lee Trevino, Gene Sarazen, Nick Faldo, Byron Nelson and Seve Ballesteros.

At this point Mickelson would likely fall somewhere between the second and third tier of all-time greats. Michklson could be viewed as more successful than players such as Faldo and Ballesteros based on a combination of major championship wins and all-time career wins while also considering the level of competition each player faced during their career.

There are also some comparisons to be made between Mickelson and players such as Palmer and Watson. Mickelson does not have as many major championship victories as these men, but he does have more PGA Tour wins than Watson and would have faced much tougher competition than Palmer did during the early stages of his career (1958-62), which was when Palmer captured six out of his seven career major championship victories.

At this very moment, Mickelson could arguably be considered one of the top 10 greatest golfers of all time. But with each victory and particularly each major championship victory, Mickelson is potentially moving up that list.

If Mickelson manages to win one more major and at least eight more PGA Tour events during the remainder of his career, he will without question cement his place on anyone’s list of the top 10 greatest golfers of all time.