Comparing sports at the highest level is trickier than dealing with a twist in changing winds that could come from the Atlantic Ocean or over salt marshes.
Some parish devotees think they are so superior.
“Any game where a 60-year-old can beat a 30-year-old man,” Brooklyn Dodgers manager Burt Shotten once said of golf, “is not a game.”
Exception: when a man 50 gives Odds 200 to 1 (at best) becomes the oldest major champion in one of the world’s oldest sports by beating a 31-man who won two of the last four PGA Championships.
Then the magnificence is undeniable.
All with picturesque seascapes and a place that Pete and Alice Dye have made one of the most difficult in the world.
That’s why Phil Mickelson’s May 23 victory in the 103rd PGA Championship on the Kiawah Island Ocean Course ranks as South Carolina’s top sporting event.
The Clemson National Soccer Championship wins in Miami, Tampa and San Jose, of course. And the South Carolina baseball titles in Omaha and the women’s basketball crown in Dallas.
The triumph of Coastal Carolina’s College World Series was so amazing.
But try to find something more punchy on the SC floor than the fun Phil.
Mickelson beating Brooks Koepka, under these circumstances, is more important than any big football victory in Clemson or South Carolina.
It might be comparable to Hank Aaron and two Jacksonville Braves teammates breaking the South Atlantic League color barrier for SC baseball fans with an appearance at Columbia in 1953.
But bigger than anything that happened at Darlington or the Family Circle Cup, or during John McKissick’s record-breaking football career at Summerville High School or the 1991 Ryder Cup ‘War by the Shore’ in Kiawah.
Gamecocks title more likely
PGA Championship ratings have increased significantly, but you don’t need continuous scans to prove the transcendent nature of an old man kicking butt.
This could be a great time for golf, which has done a good job of reaching a younger audience, but also needs middle-aged and older people to come back to the game for ideal growth.
“I had to work a lot harder to be able to stay focused throughout a lap,” Mickelson said just after winning his sixth major. “This has been the biggest challenge lately. “
People of all ages who participate in all kinds of sports and non-sports things can relate to themselves.
As for the physical part, this is Lefty, a former chubby national radio show host Jim Rome (among others) loved to call “Hefty” every opportunity. Mickelson, 50, weighing 6-3 and 200 pounds has a different diet and muscular legs that he likes to show off while wearing shorts on the driving range.
Yet what are the odds?
With Las Vegas perhaps the best place to compare sporting achievements, here are some of the teams currently with Mickelson-type 200-1 odds to win the national college football championship this coming season: Kentucky, Wake Forest, Illinois, San Diego State.
South Carolina is 100-1, twice as likely to win the national title as Mickelson was to win the PGA Championship.
Super Bowl Odds for the next NFL season, the Detroit Lions 200-1 to win.
If Phil can do it, so can Wake Forest and the Lions, right?
Or consider that Mickelson is recently better known for his acerbic wit than four straight days of good golf (e.g. taking a jab via youtube at Matt Kuchar while driving Magnolia Lane to the 2019 Masters).
He showed up on Kiawah Island in the 115th place in the world golf rankings (and started in 32nd) and was in 66th at the end of 2020.
Phil in the top 10?
There were prodigy projections when Mickelson, at his childhood home in San Diego, started prepping for his game at the age of 18 months, playing with the left-hander as a mirror image of his father. This turned out to be true when Mickelson tore him apart at Arizona State, and early in his career on the PGA Tour and winning those first five majors with Tiger Woods constantly in hiding.
But if it was any wonder that Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA Championship in almost 100 degree Texas heat at age 48, or that Jack Nicklaus – “Yes sir! – succeeded at 46 with a masterful Masters in 1986, or a 43-year-old Woods won one for the ages at Augusta in 2019, Mickelson is here to raise one for us.
The relentless needling star during his action-packed side-bet practice rounds, probably now ranks in or near the top 10 on most golf fan lists of the greatest players.
Dabo Swinney as interim head coach led Clemson to a 2008 victory over South Carolina in Death Valley. He ushered in a Tiger football streak that includes two domestic titles and six playoff appearances.
A South Carolina team led by Steve Spurrier upset Alabama’s No.1 in Colombia in 2010.
Duke stunned the Gamecocks during the 2017 NCAA Tournament in Greenville en route to the Final Four.
Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams won the Family Circle Cups at Hilton Head or Daniel Island.
Johnny Mantz winning the first Southern 500 at Darlington in 1950 set the stage for Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon.
But for a sporting event staged in South Carolina, Mickelson’s PGA Championship story is the clubhouse’s new leader.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff