‘I’ve had a number of conversations with him’: PGA CEO talking with Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson in February at the Saudi International.

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Phil Mickelson, who has not spoken publicly or played in an event since February, has had “a number of conversations” with the CEO of the PGA of America, as Mickelson decides whether to defend his title at the PGA Championship in less than two weeks.  

“I’ve had a number of conversations with him before, you know, call it, last fall and since then and recently,” Seth Waugh said this week on the 5 Clubs Conversation podcast. “I think he, you know, he is — you said it well, I think he’s trying to figure out when the right time for him is. I think the game is trying to figure out the right time for him, too. How long is long enough? And is he ready mentally and physically to do it?”

Last week, Mickelson’s agent said the player had registered to play in both the PGA Championship and U.S. Open, along with requesting a release from the PGA Tour to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event, which is June 9-11 in London. Registering for these events, however, does not mean Mickelson will definitely play in them.  

Should he, the tournaments would be his first since the Saudi International during the first week of February. A few weeks later, he put out a statement on his social media channels, saying he would be “taking some time away” following controversial comments on the LIV series, a new, Saudi Arabia-funded golf league.

“Although it doesn’t look this way now given my recent comments, my actions throughout this process have always been with the best interest of golf, my peers, sponsors, and fans,” Mickelson wrote. “There is the problem of off record comments being shared out of context and without my consent, but the bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”

The comments Mickelson was referring to came in an excerpt for a forthcoming biography by Alan Shipnuck, published Feb. 17 on firepitcollective.com. (Shipnuck has disputed Mickelson’s characterization of their conversation.) 

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The excerpt detailed Mickelson’s involvement with LIV Golf, the new company headed by Greg Norman that is expected to launch the new golf tour this year and is backed by the Public Investment Fund of the Saudi Arabia government. Mickelson called his new partners “scary motherf———s,” and he also insisted that PGA Tour media rights should be redistributed more equitably to Tour members.

On the podcast, Waugh said “the whole thing is just sad.”

“It’s sad for Phil, it’s sad for the game,” he said. “He’s been great for the game for a really long time and I do believe in redemption and I do believe that he can figure this out. I think he’s got to decide what he wants to be. Does he want to be part of the ecosystem or change the ecosystem? And I think he’s kind of caught in between a little bit, right.”

But will Mickelson play in the PGA Championship, which starts May 19 at Southern Hills in Tulsa? Last year, the then-50-year-old won the event to become the oldest-ever major champion, but Waugh said on the podcast that he thought Mickelson would make a “late decision” to play. 

“And I think, you know, we’ll continue to have conversations,” he said. “I’ve known Phil for 20-something years, and he’s a complicated guy with complicated thoughts and in a complicated situation. And so we’re all trying to figure out what’s best for him and frankly what’s best for the game and we’re going to keep having those conversations.”

The podcast’s host, Gary Williams, then asked Waugh, whether there would be “procedures in place, let’s say, in the event that he does play, as far as him meeting the media.”

“Yeah, we’ve talked about it a lot,” Waugh said on the podcast. “And I hope what we can do is have that before, you know, the flag goes up, right. So the idea is, if he does play, and if he’s able to and allowed to if he will play, he would certainly have to face the media. But I hope it’s Monday or Tuesday, and then once the flag goes up, it’s about the golf, right. And that’s — what we’re trying to do is deliver a major championship, not a circus, right. And so I would hope that he can avoid that, and everybody can avoid that. And we’re talking about golf shots instead of, you know, verbal gaffes, right, once we get going. 

“But there’s certainly, I think, part of his thinking is am I ready to face that glare and have that conversation and have all the answers that everybody is going to be looking for. And if I do it that week, am I then able to compete on a major championship venue under that kind of pressure, right, with everything going on. But we would do everything we could to make it happen either before our week or very early in the week.” 

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.