Like many with an interest in sports, I was captivated by a pair of feats that bracketed the week: Phil Mickelson’s PGA Championship victory last weekend and the win by Hélio Castroneves in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
Mickelson had last won a major in 2013 and at 50 was starting to turn up on the Champions Tour — the PGA’s senior circuit — often a sign of acceptance by golfers that the PGA Tour is a young man’s game. His 6-under on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island made him the oldest golfer to win a major. It was the second PGA Championship win and sixth-career major for the man simply known as Lefty.
A week later, 46-year-old Hélio Castroneves became just the fourth man to win four Indy 500s — his first without the backing of perennial frontrunners Team Penske. The long-time favorite now spends the majority of his time sportscar racing, running a limited oval schedule in Indycar, but it was obvious he had lost none of his old skill or fire at the Yard of Bricks.
Watching Castroneves drive to victory, I immediately thought of Mickelson’s win just a week earlier. That significance was not lost on Castroneves, either:
“Let me tell you: It’s not the end of it. It’s the beginning. I tell you what. Look, I don’t know if this is a good comparison or not, but Tom Brady won the Super Bowl, Phil Mickelson won, and now here we go. So the old guys still got it, still kicking the young guys’ butts! We teach them a lesson!,” said the man affectionately called “Spider-man” for his habit of climbing the catch fencing after his victories. (I’ll begrudgingly include Brady, though, as an Eagles fan, I will never forgive him for 2004. That’s right, even after 2017.)
Why the personal significance? I think because I have become more aware of my own mortality as of late. While a recent birthday was not yet a monumental, round number, a host of life changes have put into focus, as one friend put it, that there is less time in front of me than behind.
For example, proving Spock was right when he said “you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting,” a career goal I struggled to achieve for 30 years turned out to be not all I had envisioned. In fact, I found it moved me away from aspects of the job I not only enjoyed but was far better at.
That said, opportunities are becoming rarer in my chosen field, and suddenly, closing in on the mid-century mark, I find myself pondering what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.
At the same time, the loss of a close friend not only filled me with regret over how many years had passed since we had seen each other, it also reminded me we have no control over how much time we get to make our mark. He was my age, and I have no doubt lived a far healthier life than I do. On top of that, he was simply one of the “good guys.” Life is terribly unfair.
Throw in in a year like the one we just lived, it’s enough to make the best of us reflect on the path that brought us here. The sacrifices we made, those we shorted. Like many, I’m rebalancing my work/life equation. I aim to be better to the people who matter most and truer to myself.
So, in light of all that, why the personal significance? I suppose in acknowledging, as Sammy Davis Jr. sang, that there’s “a lot of livin’ to do,” it was nice to see a couple of old guys “still kicking the young guys’ butts” and teaching them a lesson.
It gives me hope that I have a fighting chance. Or, all due respect to P.J. O’Rourke, that age and guile still beat youth, innocence, and a bad haircut.