AUGUSTA, Ga. – There are times when Phil Mickelson starts brooding while competing here at Augusta National Golf Club. Perhaps he can’t pull off one of his patented holy-cow-did-you-see-that?! shots. Or maybe he isn’t able to convince a short putt to drop into the cup. And so, like any of us trying desperately to play better golf, he becomes rattled. He loses his composure. He gets frustrated.
Then he turns to his longtime caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, who always offers up the perfect reminder.
“He'll say, ‘Remember, you've already won this thing,’” the three-time Masters champion said Tuesday. “And it's a good point.”
There’s a sense within the game that while anyone – OK, almost anyone – can win a major, it’s much more difficult to win more than one. This is the standard by which we separate the legends from the one-hit wonders. This is the line of demarcation between superstars and fleeting stars.
The numbers help support these claims. In the history of the four major championships, 133 players have won exactly one title, while only 77 have won multiple titles. The gap is even wider at the Masters, which has featured 32 one-time winners and just 15 multiple champs.
So, armed with all of these statistics and all of these facts, it stands to reason that winning a second or third green jacket is way more difficult than winning the first.
Nice try, but you know what they say: Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
And the story here is that winning – and especially winning a Masters – gets easier the more times you do it.
“Unequivocally, yes; absolutely it does,” Mickelson agreed. “Because you want it as a player, as a kid growing up, so bad to win the Masters and to be part of the history here that sometimes you get in your own way.
“Sometimes you force things when you shouldn't. Sometimes your mind goes where it shouldn't and start seeing what you don't want to have happen and it's sometimes difficult to control your thoughts.”
He would know.
It took Mickelson 46 career major starts – and 11 at Augusta National – before claiming his first victory back in 2004. Two years later, he did it again. And four years after that, he did it for a third time.
This has little to do with luck and everything to do with attitude.
A famously aggressive player by nature, Mickelson will forever be able to freewheel it around this course without having to worry about repercussions. After all, he might not win another title, but they’ll never take those three away. Basically, he’s playing with house money.
It’s an invaluable ace up his sleeve on a Sunday afternoon in April against fellow competitors who are white-knuckled and nauseous at the prospect of trying to join golf’s most exclusive club.
He’s not the only one who feels this way, either.
“I was always grateful to know that I could do it again,” said Nick Faldo, who won three of his six majors at the Masters. “I would say to myself, ‘I can still do it.’ There are a lot of guys trying to win their first who can’t get out of their own way.”
With more first-timers (24) in this week’s field than past champions (19), being able to rely on memory recall down the stretch could prove to serve as an important commodity.
Those who have won here on multiple occasions understand this phenomenon. It probably bucks the facts and the stats and even common sense in a way, but they know that winning begets more winning. The first one is always the toughest.
Mickelson will enter this week’s tournament armed with that knowledge as he chases Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods to become the third player ever with four Masters titles, tied for second behind Jack Nicklaus. Don’t underestimate how important a role that could play.
“I have won this thing,” he said. “I know how to win it and it's a confidence and momentum‑builder when you can look back on that. It's a huge thing to have already done it.”