50 years old. It has been two weeks since Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship at the age of 50.
Kirk Cousins is entering his age-33 season. We all know who he is at this point, right? He has only one playoff win since signing his $84 million contract. Cousins will put up 4,000 yards passing but shrivels in the biggest moments. He’s not the Super Bowl-winning quarterback you’re looking for.
But what if Kirk could follow the Phil Mickelson path? What if he was just a bit of a late bloomer? I understand even the most die hard purple fans will have a hard time buying into these what-ifs. But until Kellen Mond improves his accuracy, the fate of the Minnesota Vikings is in Kirk’s hands. So hear me out.
There was a time when Lefty was considered the quintessential bridesmaid. The guy who always came in second. He skipped Q-School to turn pro in 1992 but didn’t win his first major until 2004. He still hasn’t won the U.S. Open, but he’s finished as the runner-up six times.
In 2006, Phil needed to par 18 for a one-shot victory at the U.S. Open. He had just won the PGA Championship and the Masters and was in line to join Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods as the only golfers ever to win three consecutive majors. But his drive hooked right and hit a hospitality tent, his second shot hit a tree, and he finished with a double-bogey.
Kirk Cousins’ performances in prime time have been every bit of a double-bogey. It seems, with rare exception, that every time his team and fan base need a big moment from him, he steps up in the tee box and shanks it. Look at the start of last season. The Vikings were in desperate need of their star quarterback as they dealt with a young and depleted defense. That’s not what they got. They got a safety in the first two weeks of the season. They got the interception he threw shortly after coming out of the locker room against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5. They got Kirk dropping back into a clean pocket and tossing the ball directly to an Atlanta Falcons linebacker in Week 6.
On paper, Kirk seems to have the physical tools to break through. Much like Mickelson before his success, a large amount of his problem seems to be the mental approach to the game. Both individuals were/are under a great deal of scrutiny. Scrutiny from both the public and themselves. It’s that sort of scrutiny that allows a big loss to turn into a trend. It allows that trend to turn into a catastrophe. It allows a catastrophe to turn into a cultural discussion point.
That’s where Phil Mickelson was before breaking through and that’s where Kirk currently is.
If he could just give himself a couple of big-time moments in a row, who knows what the later part of Cousins’ career could look like. Former Viking Rich Gannon went from a run of the mill starter to a league MVP at the end of his career. He very much walked the Phil Mickelson path.
I know Kirk is old in quarterback years. It is easy to believe that he is who he is. But what Mickelson has proven is there is no age that is too late to change.
Seven years ago, at age 42, Mickelson missed the cut at the Masters and the Players. In one of his final columns for ESPN, Rick Reilly went to check on ol’ Phil. Reilly had documented Mickelson’s career dating back to his time at Sports Illustrated and was a frequent defender of Phil’s. But even he was losing faith in Lefty.
“The next five years are going to be the best of my career,” Mickelson told a doubtful Reilly, who couldn’t see Phil playing his best golf between ages 43 and 48. “I’m going to win a bunch of tournaments. I’m going to win at least one U.S. Open, maybe two. And I’m going to make the 2016 Olympic team. And really, I’d love to make the 2020 Olympic team. I’d be 50. How cool would that be?”
This would be the equivalent of Cousins saying he is going to win one Super Bowl, maybe two, and become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in the next five years.
The funny thing is that Mickelson was both overly confident and sold himself short. He still hasn’t won the U.S. Open. He didn’t qualify for the Olympics in 2016 and likely won’t in 2020. (Imagine telling him they’d be delayed a year because of a worldwide pandemic.) And yet, he became the oldest golfer to win a major earlier this year.
I get it. Golf isn’t football. It may strain your back or devastate your psyche, but it’s not a contact sport. Still, the best quarterbacks are playing into their late 30s now — some into their 40s. And even the best golfers tend to win majors in their 20s and 30s and slow down in their 40s.
To put Mickelson’s win in perspective, he beat out Ernie Els to win the Masters in 2004. Els is only a year older than Mickelson and last played in a major in 2019. He joined the men’s senior tour last year.
Phil’s age when he beat Els to win his first major? 33.
Maybe there’s still hope for Kirk.