On the monitor below them was a photo from the first time they met. The 14-year-old with an easy smile was holding the winner’s trophy from the 1984 Junior World Championship. Next to him was the golden boy from San Diego, slightly taller at the time, holding his trophy as the runner-up.
Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson are still going at it, rarely rivals, always friends.
The next time playing together, this week at the PGA Championship, marks a special occasion for both. Three decades later, Els and Mickelson join an elite club by competing in their 100th major championship.
Els won his first one in 1994 at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange was quoted as calling Els the “next god.” Only later did the media realize what Strange had said was that Els would be the “next guy.” It just sounded the other way because of his thick Virginia accent.
Mickelson didn’t win his first major until he was 34, at the Masters, and it came at the expense of Els. Mickelson holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Els, on the putting green hopeful of a playoff, heard the ground-shaking roar, picked up his golf balls and walked off. He never won a green jacket.
The PGA of America brought them together Tuesday afternoon for an interview and a celebration, complete with a cake.
They become the 13th and 14th players to reach 100 majors, a list that starts with Jack Nicklaus and his 164. He is followed by Gary Player, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd, Sam Snead, Ben Crenshaw, Gene Sarazen, Tom Kite, Mark O’Meara, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo, who played his 100th and final major at St. Andrews in the British Open two years ago.
All of them are in the Hall of Fame, Els and Mickelson included.
The PGA of America had photos from the first major they played (Els at the 1989 British Open, Mickelson at the 1990 U.S. Open); the victories in the majors (five for Mickelson, four for Els); and yes, that 1984 Junior World.
“Do you see how grumpy Phil looks there,” Els said with a chuckle. “It was quite a while ago, I can tell you. We had a great time. It was my first time ever to the United States and what a place to go play golf at in San Diego. I guess that was the first time we met. I think we played 18 holes together there that time, and I would never have thought that we’d be playing basically for life.”
Mickelson remembers it well, specifically a shot Els hit in the final round when he was 20 yards short of the green on a…