Phil Mickelson’s broadcast appearance offered window into alternate reality
There was plenty to learn from Phil Mickelson’s appearance as a guest commentator for LIV Golf on Sunday afternoon. Mickelson showed off his broadcasting chops; he broke down swings, cracked jokes and told stories. But no lesson was more interesting than our glimpse of golf’s alternate reality — the one in which Mickelson’s future takes place in the booth rather than on the Hy Flyers.
His appearance was, first and foremost, a graduate-level course in the Tao of Phil. Sunday was just the latest in an irregular string of brilliant on-air performances from arguably golf’s greatest entertainer. It was also our latest reminder that Phil can turn it on whenever he likes. He joined the booth filled with characteristic bravado and displayed none of the trepidation we’ve seen over these last several months, his energy and golf intellect practically jumping through the screen.
He entered the broadcast without warning. Before Jerry Foltz could offer his own formal introduction, Mickelson had already launched into a swing breakdown of his Friday playing partner, Cam Smith.
“I love watching Cam Smith swing a golf club,” Mickelson raced. “He is my favorite player to watch right now because he is a swinger of the club. He’s not really a hitter. He swings the club with such beautiful rhythm. What I get out of it is if you watch how stable his body stays, his head and everything stays so stable while he swings the club, it’s beautiful to watch. When I have a chance to watch him play, it’s special.”
He continued like this for some time, offering attention-snapping quips on the rules of golf, the art of a proper bunker shot and, naturally, his fitness routine. He even found a way to stump for his home tour in its battle to earn entrance into the major championships.
“I’ve got to go out there and really get ready because next year we’re going to play 14 events and hopefully…” he paused, knocking on the desk in front of him with a smirk. “…the majors. So I’ve got to be ready to go.”
Mickelson’s broadcast partners laughed, and surely viewers did the same. It was hard not to be captivated, not with Phil showing the version of himself that months of muted press conferences and Twitter silence led us to believe had gone dormant.
Watching Phil’s latest on-screen performance also offered a peek into his psyche.
Mickelson is a wildly gifted commentator, perhaps as gifted as he once was as a competitor. Perhaps more gifted than he is now. But aptitude is not the only factor. For Phil, it’s clear that even if his future is on television, his heart is still on the course.
“It’s hard for me to talk about this because I want to be out there,” he repeated on a handful of different occasions during his appearance.
Out there, though, hasn’t been nearly as friendly to Phil. He lost a hard-fought match to Smith on Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of LIV Golf’s team championships, the final whimper in a turbulent, disappointing 2022 season. Mickelson played in all eight events in LIV’s inaugural season, and his performance at the team championships might have been his finest on-course effort.
His struggles on the course have been multitudinous in 2022, even if they have been quiet. There were missed cuts at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. There were bottom-15 finishes at many LIV events.
It isn’t clear what Phil’s golf future holds. He’s 52 now, 18 months removed from his out-of-nowhere PGA Championship victory at Kiawah Island. His $200 million contract with LIV Golf likely stipulates that he competes for at least a few more years, but beyond that, life is uncertain. Will he drift deeper into LIV franchise ownership? Will he dive into his health and wellness business? Will he chase his creativity into course design? Maybe he’ll follow his talents into the broadcast booth. It surely won’t be hard for him to find employment, even if — at least for the moment — the list of potential suitors has dwindled all the way down to one.
This was the most striking lesson of Phil’s booth appearance on Sunday: we’ll never know what this future might have looked like. When mainstream golf lost Phil, it didn’t just lose Phil the golfer, it also lost his future as commentator, entertainer and personality. There was once a world in which Phil’s future was destined to earn millions calling majors and embracing a level of stardom untouched by any golf broadcaster the sport has ever seen. Now, Phil’s future is far less certain, and dictated primarily by LIV’s success.
It’d been more than two years since we earned a glimpse of Phil in the booth, but we saw it again on Sunday. Maybe this performance was a peek into Phil’s next act, or maybe it was just that — a performance. We won’t know until we see him again. It’s possible he doesn’t know, either.