This Summer Phil Mickelson played maybe the most masterful golf of his career, particularly on the back nine Sunday, in winning the prestigious Open Championship in Scotland. The win gave him three of the four majors in golf for his career, leaving only the U.S. Open, which he has been the runner up (and flat out lost on Sunday) a handful of times.
A professional since the age of 22, a winner of four majors (at the time), and 50 wins worldwide (at the time), there was a different air about Mickelson that week; he had won a European Tour event the week prior, and was brimming with confidence. That wasn't all of it though; he had almost a different perspective on the event than in years prior; he basically stopped to smell the roses and enjoy himself that week.
Instead of the straight-ahead singular focus, "Lefty" took it all in as if he realized that it wasn't the end of the world if he didn't play well- it isn't the end of the world, so go have some fun. As it turns out, he took home The Claret Jug.
Which brings me to Josh Harding.
Harding has had his fair share of unfortunately timed events during his playing career, like injuries that delayed his claiming of the franchise goaltending throne that he was penciled in as when he was taken in the 2nd Round of the 2002 Entry Draft. We all know about the Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, and the complications from the medication that cost him much of last season. It's been a tough road to hoe, really, for someone who is well-respected in the locker room and in the community.
So what he's done this season has been crazy; the stat line this season thus far is just ridiculous: 8-2-1, .951 Save%, 1.09 Goals Against. He's been well, awesome- an extension of his solid impromptu performance in the playoffs, where he was forced into starting because Niklas Backstrom went down with injury during pregame warmups before Game 1. This was a guy who missed much of the season, and he steps into a high pressure situation like that and performs like it is no big deal- so one has to wonder if he's got new perspective on his life, which is similar to Mickelson's.
There are far worse things that has happened to him than a bad game, or a soft goal; no need to dwell on it. You get to play a game for a living, and when you go home you get to spend time with your family- things that are important. It's not that Harding doesn't care; its that he looks like he's playing care free. It is amazing how well things go when that's the case- also that the team in front of you always has the puck and limits the shot attempts coming at you- but there is a difference in Harding this year.
In years past there he'd flash his potential, and then get in his own way at times; he was never really able to seize the #1 role. He'd have a strong game and then back it up with a clunker, essentially relegating himself to back up duty- but so far he's got a death grip on the starter's spot, and doesn't look like he's too inclined to relinquish it. That confidence breeds success; the team in front of him is going to follow his lead and play well, knowing that they have a rock in net behind them if they stumble.
Good on Josh Harding, and may his most masterful hockey lay ahead of him.