Phil Mickelson’s 2022 will be remembered for everything but golf
Remember when we thought a pandemic season two years ago was crazy? Man, 2022 had it all. The return of Tiger Woods, the founding of a controversial golf league, the disappearance (and reappearance) of one of golf’s most beloved figures and so much more. But now let’s take a breath. Here, we’ll look back (and look ahead) at the 10 most memorable moments of 2022.
No. 10: Nelly Korda’s rollercoaster year ended with promise for 2023
No. 9: How Tom Kim stole the show at the Presidents Cup
No. 8: How Lydia Ko rediscovered her game in 2022
No. 7: Rory McIlroy was an absolute force
No. 6: Scottie Scheffler is a major champ
No. 5: Cam Smith’s breakout year
No. 4: What happened to Phil Mickelson?
He is present in his absence, out of sight but top of mind as a tumultuous year in golf kicks into swing. A three-time Masters champ, he fails to make the drive down Magnolia Lane in April. The reigning PGA Champion, he pulls his name from the field at Southern Hills, in Tulsa, passing on the chance to defend his crown in May.
For three months in early 2022, Phil Mickelson makes himself as scarce as Sasquatch. But even as he morphs into a shadow figure, he remains a source of headlines, engulfed in controversy that reflects deeper fractures in the game.
Fans might recall the rough timeline of events. In mid-February, unflattering comments Phil had made about Saudi-backed LIV Golf are published by the writer Alan Shipnuck, author of a then-forthcoming Mickelson biography.
“They’re scary motherf—-,” with a “horrible record on human rights,” Mickelson is quoted as saying of the Saudis, noting that the country’s rulers had been behind the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But they are also useful to Mickelson, who justifies aligning himself with LIV as a form of leverage against the PGA Tour.
His cynicism does not go over well.
Days later, after the final round of the Genesis Open, at Riviera, Rory McIlroy speaks for many when he describes Mickelson’s remarks as “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant,” before adding: “I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”
Another few days later, an apology from Mickelson, posted on social media, opens: “Although it doesn’t look this way now given my recent comments, my actions throughout this process have always been with the best interests of golf, my peers, my sponsors, and fans.”
Undercutting his own mea culpa, Mickelson also lamely plays a blame-the-media game, claiming that his remarks were meant to be “off the record” (a characterization Shipnuck calls “completely false) and, more feebly still, insisting that his words were taken “out of context” (in no other context could they have meant anything different).
But in closing, he’s contrite.
“It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words,” he says. “I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”
And with that, he retreats from public life.
Where he goes is hard to say. A ranch in Montana? An ashram in Nepal?
As rumors swirl and sponsors sever ties, other Phil-related details emerge.
At his annual press conference on the Wednesday before the Masters, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley dispels scuttlebutt that the club had asked Mickelson to stay away. “We did not disinvite Phil,” Ridley says, adding that Mickelson had first alerted him by text in late February or early March that he would not compete.
“I thanked him for his courtesy in letting me know,” Ridley says.
The first major of the year goes by, Mickelson-less.
Will he show up for the second?
“Our client Phil Mickelson is officially registered to play in the PGA Championship…” So reads the statement, issued in late April, by Mickelson’s agent, raising hopes for a title defense in Tulsa that are dashed a few weeks later, in a statement from the PGA of America: “We have just been informed that Phil Mickelson has withdrawn from the PGA Championship.”
Life plods on. A golf war brews.
Along the way, a video appears on social media of Mickelson playing a casual round, just north of San Diego. An article is published—an excerpt from Shipnuck’s soon-to-be-released biography — that puts a number to Mickelson’s long-rumored gambling debts: a reported $40 million in losses, amassed between 2010 and 2014.
Otherwise, though, no sign or word from Phil himself. He posts no tweets and no official scores.
Not until June, when he shows up before us in the flesh again. The site is London. The event is the kickoff of the LIV Golf International Series. It is reported that Mickelson has been paid $200 million to join the upstart league.
At a press conference before the opening round, he looks and sounds like a body-snatched version of himself, flashing four-day stubble, skirting questions.
“I choose not to speak publicly on PGA Tour issues at this time,” he says.
He looks and sounds the same when he turns up the next week for the U.S. Open, at The Country Club, in Brookline, where fans greet him warmly but he misses the cut.
Summer arrives. Mickelson’s name appears on a lawsuit filed by 11 LIV players against the PGA Tour (he later recuses himself from the suit). The documents reveal that Phil’s exile from competition was not entirely self-imposed; he’d been suspended by the PGA Tour in March, a banishment that has since been extended. According to the suit, he cannot apply for Tour reinstatement until 2024.
He’s still eligible for the Open Championship, though. At the Old Course, in July, Mickelson shoots 5-over on Friday to miss the weekend. He is 52. His game is out of round. But cuts are not an issue in his new golf life.
Playing a full LIV schedule, Mickelson wraps up 2022 with $102 million in on-course earnings; Forbes proclaims him the highest-paid golfer of the year.
At LIV’s season-ending event, he is asked about the future.
“I think there’s a lot of possibilities and I’m not sure how it’ll play out,” he says. “I just know that in the next, over the course of the next year, a lot of stuff is going to happen, and things will kind of iron themselves out.” He says this in October.
A few months later, one thing that happens is a statement from Augusta. LIV players will not be banned from the Masters.
The mind reels at the prospects. A final-group-on-Sunday Phil-Rory pairing? That would be a story.
Little seems impossible in 2023.