Reading Time: 3 minutes

Phil Mickelson becomes the oldest golfer to win a major title: Finding the vital balance between tradition and innovation

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

facebook twitter instagram

Phil Mickelson holds the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Kiawah Island, S.C. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Phil Mickelson holds the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Kiawah Island, S.C. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

I joined golf fans across the country who watched in amazement as Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, on Sunday. The Washington Post gave his victory perspective: since 1900, only five players aged fifty or older had held a fifty-four-hole lead in a professional golf major tournament. None went on to win. In fact, they combined to shoot twenty-six over par in their final rounds.

But the article adds, “None of them were Phil Mickelson.”

He turns fifty-one next month. With his victory he surpassed Julius Boros, who was forty-eight years old when he won the PGA Championship in 1968.

Mickelson was considered a two-hundred-to-one long shot when the tournament began on Thursday. At fifty, he had already begun playing on the PGA Tour’s senior circuit, winning his first two events. Few thought he would ever win again on the regular tour, much less a major title.

Phil Mickelson reminds us that age is more a number than a limit. It is important to learn from history and tradition while seeking new opportunities and experiences. The ability to do both, in fact, is part of the genius of the American experiment.

Frank S. Meyer (1909–72) was an American philosopher and political activist. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan recognized him for “a vigorous new synthesis of traditional and libertarian thought—a synthesis that is today recognized by many as modern conservativism.”

Meyer’s volume, In Defense of Freedom and Related Essays, includes a foreword by the historian William C. Dennis, who notes: “Meyer argued that American conservatism is a blend of two strands of thought that for the most part remained in opposition to each other in Europe but in America were historical and natural allies. On the one hand there were the ‘traditionalists,’ with their emphasis on value, virtue, and order; on the other hand, there were the ‘libertarians,’ with their stress upon freedom and the innate importance of the individual.”

Christians are tempted to embrace one to the exclusion of the other. In these days of unprecedented cultural challenges, we can defend traditional beliefs so fiercely that we refuse to seek new ways to express them creatively and persuasively. Or we can engage with new ideas and methods so fully that we fail to critique them by biblical truth.

God calls us to choose both.

His word invites us to “sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” (Psalm 98:1). When we look at what God has “done” in the past, we are motivated to sing a “new” song for the future. The more we remember what our Father has done for us, the more we are encouraged to trust him for what he will do. And the more we are empowered to step into an unknown future by faith in his providence and providing grace.

A wise mentor once taught me the key to knowing God’s will: stay faithful to the last word you heard from God and open to the next.

What is the last word you heard from God?