Here’s the surprising reason Phil Mickelson says he hasn’t been sick in 10 years (but has he?!)

November 1, 2019
Phil Mickelson has slimmed down of late, but top results haven't yet followed.

If you’re looking for a good reason to drink more coffee, well, Phil Mickelson says you should. And he looks great! The lean, mean, Lefty machine has been dropping dozens of pounds over the course of the last year. His new figure has hardly translated into results — he doesn’t have a top 20 since the Masters — but he’s showing signs of life at this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions, where he sits T20 at the halfway point.

But what caught our attention was a clip posted by Golfing World presenter Iona Stephen in which Mickelson talks health tips.

“I continue to do it to this day, I drink coffee all day long and in the last 10 years I have not been sick a single day,” he says in the interview. “It has changed my life in that regard and it has helped me control any type of ailments that I may have, so coffee is singlehandedly the biggest thing for me.”

Not been sick in a decade! That’s a bold claim — but definitely something to aspire to. Let’s break down the three important questions behind Mickelson’s claim here.

1. What kind of coffee is Mickelson drinking, anyways?!

I’m glad you asked. Because we’re on the cutting edge of vital reporting like this, GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com actually has multiple past reports on Mickelson’s particular preferences. Check this out, from a 2017 article quoting Mickelson’s friend Dave Phillips, who claims responsibility for Mickelson’s coffee habits:

“Mickelson brews his magic elixir in a Presse, made by Bobble. From Phillips: ‘Fill to the top with coarse ground Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee, then add water heated to 200 degrees. Stir five or six times, wait three minutes and then plunge it. (If you wait too long the beans get bitter.) Phil then pours it into a Bodum pot and adds Califia Farms almond milk, a dash of cinnamon, a few Yiragacheffe Cacao nibs (80%) and a little medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, which is extracted from coconuts. With a hand electric blender he mixes it until slightly frothy and that’s it.'”

Drinking a lot of coffee sounded easy when Mickelson first said it. But it’s not quite so simple his way, is it?!

2. Is drinking that much coffee…good for you?!

Some dubious athlete health claims are relatively innocuous, like Tom Brady’s assertion that drinking lots of water will prevent sunburns and concussions. Drinking water is generally good anyway, right? Mickelson’s approach is slightly different, because even though the scientific community has been shifting towards a more pro-coffee stance, too much caffeine can have some side effects. The Mayo Clinic recommends no more than 3-4 cups of coffee, or 400 mg of caffeine, per day.

So what happens if you exceed those levels? From the Copeman Health Care Center: “Studies also show women and men who drink large amounts of caffeine release higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in response to physical and mental stress. The cortisol triggers the release of sugar and fat from your body’s stores in order to physically exert yourself in times of stress.

“Health concerns associated with this stress response include high blood sugar, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, and suppression of your immune system. Consuming high doses of caffeine can also induce or worsen panic attacks, anxiety, restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, stomach upset, tachycardia, irritability and addiction.”

In other words, caffeine can have some effects on your system that might not be great for your health or your golf game. For Mickelson, the coffee-heavy diet is paired with fasting, which he has called a “big part” of his recent health kick. The combo lines up with a plan outlined in a 2017 book called The Coffee Lover’s Diet by Dr. Bob Arnot, who suggested that three cups per day will “boost your metabolism and cardiovascular function, while spurring weight loss.” The key part here is keeping your diet to 1500 calories per day, which is significantly below the national average.

Support for the diet is mostly anecdotal, but there’s no questioning Mickelson’s results. To summarize: Mickelson has definitely lost weight on this diet and he reportedly feels energized. Still, housing coffee all day may not work for everyone; the jury’s still out.

3. Is it true that Phil Mickelson hasn’t been sick in…10 years?!

To quote Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!” For starters, this author very randomly ended up caddying in the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship Pro-Am in Mickelson’s group. It was only a few holes in before Lefty started looking a bit green in the face; he withdrew after five holes. (The number of fans following our group dropped somewhat, as you can imagine, when Jonathan Byrd replaced Mickelson several holes later.)

But that was nine-and-a-half years ago, so we’ll give Mickelson the benefit of the doubt there. Let’s move forward to the spring of 2013, when my now-boss Alan Bastable was tracking Mickelson in California. He wrote the following:

“Phil Mickelson has the flu. Or at least he had the flu, a 10-day doozy that nearly forced him to withdraw from his first start of 2013, Bill Clinton’s star-studded Humana Challenge. He’s still nasally and a touch weak, but no matter. On this perfect Thursday morning at La Quinta Country Club in the desert east of Los Angeles, Lefty is working the scene like Sinatra in a cocktail lounge.” A strong lede, to be sure, and evidence of some illness.

Fast-forward to the 2014 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where Mickelson arrived with strep throat and said he hadn’t been able to practice due to his illness — even going so far as to suggest no more high fives. “I’ve got to be a little bit careful on some of the high fives and hand slappings and stuff, because it looks like that’s kind of been the cause of me getting sick a little bit. I’ve got to cut some of that out.”

Safe to say that didn’t last.

Mickelson has retained relatively stable health the last five years, though, with one exception: a condition he battled in 2017 that he referenced vaguely as something sapping his energy and focus. In other words, Mickelson’s 10-year claim was a bit of a reach. In the last five years, though, he’s been doing pretty well.

The most curious part of the Mickelson illness archives is actually a quote from that 2014 sickness.

“I played some of my best golf when I was sick too. It’s been a while now, but back in San Diego, like 2000 or 2001, I ended up being in the hospital with an IV on Tuesday and Wednesday and ended up winning.”

Anecdotally, this checks out: that week at the Quail Hollow Championship, Mickelson finished second (losing only to Rory McIlroy, who shot 66-62 on the weekend after making the cut on the number). In the end, we’re delighted that Phil is feeling good — but that’s no guarantee that hefty paychecks will follow.