One athlete sets himself apart as greatest in ASU history

Phil_Mickleson_WM_OpenWalking through the Arizona State Schaefer Sports Hall of Fame in Tempe it’s easy to see why our local university has housed some of the greatest athletes over the past half century.

Reggie Jackson. Pat Tillman. Barry Bonds. Randall McDaniel. Curley Culp.

Not to bore you with details, the list is endless from archery to wrestling with current stars like Terrell Suggs, James Harden and Anthony Robles waiting to take their place in the hallowed hall.

But one name stands above all the others and he again proved why Sunday when he held up the Claret Jug in Gullane, Scotland after winning his first British Open.

Phil Mickelson’s final round 5 under-par 66 on the brutally tough ancient links further cemented his place in golf history.

“This is the greatest feeling I’ve had in the game,”  he said afterwards. “It’s probably the greatest round of my career.”

Mickelson’s doing it age 43 in a game which continues to trend towards younger up-and-coming stars like Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Justin Rose. All five of his majors championships have come in the last nine years and he needs only to win the U.S. Open to complete the Grand Slam. Few athletes peak in their mid-30’s to 40’s but Mickelson and his game continue to improve and perform at the most opportune times.

It’s probably the greatest round of my career

His greatness is etched in a tireless work ethic towards perfection. Sunday marked his third victory this season and was especially sweet coming off his sixth runner-up finish at the Open last month.

Often criticized for “not being able to win the big one,” he is now comfortable in his own skin, finally stepping out and away from Tiger’s shadow. He’s made over $180 million since turning pro.

Many feel the lines become blurred when comparing Mickelson against other Sun Devil greats because golf is an individual sport. In reality this only separates his greatness because, sans his caddy, he out on an island to fail or succeed. Lefty has 51 career wins.

As for Bonds, well…his greatness will always come into question for the dark cloud which hovers over Major League Baseball like the ugly smog we see in downtown Phoenix between our semi-annual rainstorms. He will never be given the benefit of the doubt nor should he for his aloof attitude. He will never be ruled in favor in the court of public opinion which has more staying power than he’ll likely ever realize.

Tillman, named the 1997 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, will be remembered far more (and deservedly so) for being the greatest and bravest American to play at ASU, but not the most accomplished athlete.

Mr. October, the Hall-of-Famer McDaniel and the soon-to-be-Hall-of-Fame Culp all have their place in Sun Devil immortality but not on the level of Mickelson.

For so many years he tried desperately to reach his potential. Now you can argue he’s exceeded it.

So next time you see Phil walking down the fairway acknowledging the crowd with a tip of the cap and that sheepish grin take a moment to appreciate greatness.

It’s never too late to love.

Luckily, from the look of it, Lefty’s just getting started.