He was asked about not attending events for past champions. And whether he had any regrets. And how he was feeling emotionally.
And Phil Mickelson was also asked about his tee-shot strategy on St. Andrews’ 16th.
His press conference after his Open Championship first round was not unexpected, though still at least somewhat bizarre. This is the world in which Mickelson now lives. He shot a respectable even-par 72 on Thursday and was asked six questions about it. And he was asked 11 questions involving where he now plays his other golf, the controversial, Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.
On that subject, the questions and answers were testy, and they started early. Mickelson was first asked why he did not participate in either the Celebration of Champions or the Champions Dinner, events this week that honored past Open winners, of which Mickelson is one.
“The R&A contacted me a couple weeks before and said, look, we don’t think it’s a great idea you go, but if you want to, you can,” Mickelson said. “I just didn’t want to make a big deal about it, so I said fine. We both kind of agreed that it would be best if I didn’t.”
He was asked three follow-ups:
“Does that take away from the week at all, Phil? Are you having a good time anyway?” a reporter asked.
“No. I love being here. Everybody here loves golf, and we find this place to be very spiritual. As great as this game has been to me, to be able to come here to the Home [of Golf] and compete again — I think this is my sixth one here.”
“Going back to the dinner, you don’t find it very sad that you’re in this position?” the reporter asked.
“No. No, not at all,” Mickelson said. “I think that I couldn’t be more excited and ecstatic with where I’m at. I love the events. I get to have golf in my life and competitive golf in my life on a scale that is fun, exciting, different, and lets me play and compete but still do the things outside that I want to do.
“I’ve got a nice trip lined up after this and things that I haven’t been able to do in the past. So, no, I couldn’t be happier.”
“Even missing out on an occasion like the past champions dinner with the 150th …” the reporter began.
“Let it go, dude. Let it go,” Mickelson said. “That’s three times you’ve asked the same question. I don’t know what to tell you. I couldn’t be happier.”
On the LIV Golf subject, he was then asked whether he had “any regrets for your part in all this.” While you may know most of the story, here’s a quick catch-up: Mickelson, frustrated by the PGA Tour, plotted to leave; said some R-rated words about the backers of LIV, his potential new golf venture; apologized, left golf for four months; returned; and is playing for the new series — and is playing in his second-straight major.
“I made the right decision for me,” Mickelson said. “And I’m excited about, like I say, having the opportunity to play competitive golf and have it in my life in a more moderate scale to where I can do some things outside of that too. I freed up a lot of other — freed up a lot of time as well.
“I couldn’t be happier. I think it’s been really good. I can’t wait to get to New Jersey and play another event there. The player experience, the experience of those events from a player standpoint is a 10. You can’t get it any better.
“Look, it’s not my job to explain or help you understand or whatever. It’s just, I couldn’t be happier.”
A reporter then asked: “I’m not ignoring what you’re saying about that. How are you feeling emotionally? Because however happy you are, it’s clearly been a helluva an upheaval for everybody the last few months. Do you feel fragile at all about it in any way, or do you feel bullish?”
“It’s all going to play out in time,” Mickelson said. “I think it’s all going to play out and end up where it should be in time.”
Then there was a question about the comments from his longtime rival. To sum up Tiger Woods’ thoughts on LIV, one may only need to look at GOLF.com’s headline: “Tiger Woods slams LIV Golf in candid Open presser.”
“I certainly respect his opinion,” Mickelson said. “I have a lot of respect for him. I respect his opinion. I think everybody’s going to have strong emotions and opinions about it, and I certainly respect his.”
While the exchanges may remind you of a previous, more emotional Mickelson, Thursday was a turn from his recent interviews. At the first LIV event, in London, he was short and subdued. It was more of the same in three interviews at last month’s U.S. Open.
And that tee shot on 16 we noted at the start? There, Mickelson took his ball about 50 yards left of the fairway with driver and played from there.
“So with the pin right, anything left is fine,” Mickelson said. “Also on top of that mound is not very thick, so that’s where I’m going to be. I’m going to be hitting driver on 16 every day, so I’m going to hit it up on that left rough.
“I don’t feel confident trying to hug the out of bounds, and so I’m just going to hit it in the left rough and have a little angle up that hill. There will be two pins I can’t really get to. I’ll just probably make par.”