CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The first time Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson played against each other they were 14 years old.
The South African, a lanky, blond more formally known as Ernest back then, had come to San Diego, where Mickelson was born and raised, to play in the Junior World Championship.
Els, who was making his first trip to the United States, ended up winning the tournament, beating Mickelson by three strokes. Future PGA TOUR stars David Toms won the 15-17 age group while the 8-year-old Tiger Woods captured the 9-10s.
On Thursday at the Quail Hollow Club, some 34 years later, Els and Mickelson teed off in their 100th major championship. Neither likely will make the cut.
Only 12 other players have reached that milestone, led by Jack Nicklaus at 164.
And Davis Love III – who will join Mickelson and Els in the World Golf Hall of Fame next month — is hot on their heels, making his 99th major start this week.
On Tuesday, though, with a giant “birthday” cake waiting to be cut to the left of the dais, the focus was clearly on the 47-year-olds. Between them, Mickelson and Els have won nine majors, five going to the former and four to the latter.
“I think we played 18 holes together there that time, and I would never have thought that we’d be playing, you know, basically for life, 100th major now,” Els recalled. “It started in a very nice, sunny beautiful place in San Diego. We’re still going here, quite a few years.”
Mickelson feels similarly.
“It just goes by so fast; you don’t think about it,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. We get to play golf, what most people do on vacation, as our job, and it’s the greatest job in the world.
“Every time I play in (a major), I remember back when I was a kid, competing in my yard against the greats, trying to beat them for major titles, and we both have been fortunate to have won some. I know we both want to win a couple mo