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Sports Talk: Mickelson’s hot start is one for the ages

The two golfers with North County ties were chatting around the tee box. The conversation turned to motivation as Phil Mickelson fielded a question from Dennis Paulson.

It’s one many observers contemplate: just how does Rancho Santa Fe’s Mickelson keep his drive at 48?

“It’s not for money because he has plenty of that,” said Paulson, a PGA Tour Radio analyst who resides in San Elijo Hills. “His motivation is just to keep getting better so he can be able to compete with these guys. He wants that action of competition.”

Mickelson will put his surging game on display at the Genesis Open in Los Angeles starting on Thursday. Fresh from winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Mickelson seeks his third title in LA.

Of course Mickelson nearly won at Desert Classic before prevailing at Pebble Beach for a fifth time.

“It’s been a good start to the year so far and it’s just important for me to continue to build on that,” Mickelson said after notching his 44th PGA Tour win. “In my mind I’ve been able to foresee play like this, but you still have to go out and execute and do it. To start getting some of the results and playing the way I believe I’m capable of, it feels good.”

Paulson thought Mickelson might have a solid season up his sleeve. He saw Mickelson when he kicked off his year in Napa Valley, soon after his winless Ryder Cup showing.

“He was talking about this new equipment that he had and a new golf ball he was playing with,” Paulson said. “And I’m thinking, ‘How can you be that excited still about golf at your age?’ I don’t know what it is, but it’s that little thing that makes him tick, makes him special.

Mickelson deferred to the calendar and dwindled his 2019 schedule. He picked courses that suited his game and fit around the majors.

When Mickelson, who cut his teeth on San Diego Junior Golf, didn’t play at the recent Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, it rubbed many the wrong way. But Mickelson hasn’t played well there since the redo for the 2008 US Open, so he chilled.

But he’s gotten hot and shows little signs of cooling. The young guns are on his tail, but there’s something about being a savvy veteran and still being able to deliver shots thanks, in part, to advances in technology.

Something no one can buy is experience. That’s why selling Mickelson, and Tiger Woods, short is a mistake as they’re the lone golfers to eclipse $90 million in career earnings.

“I believe that when even today if I play my best, if Tiger plays his best, it’s good enough to win on any week,” Mickelson said. “There are so many great young players and so many great players in the game today that it takes our best to win. I just think that both myself and Tiger are going to have a really, really good year this year.”

They’ll both be at the Riviera Country Club, a rare spot where Woods hasn’t won.

Defeating age isn’t easy for any athlete. Those shortcuts that might have accompanied youth are no longer available.

“It’s a lot more work and effort to play at this level,” Mickelson said. “I have believed for some time that if I play at my best it will be good enough to win tournaments. 

“The challenge is getting myself to play my best. It’s a lot more work off the course, it’s more time in the gym, it’s more time eating, it’s more time focusing, it’s all these things that go into it and so it’s very gratifying to see the results.”

While age is but a number, the winning figures Mickelson is posting seem timeless.

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