Phil Mickelson’s latest announcement leaves us asking more questions
The statement came in Monday afternoon, courtesy of Phil Mickelson’s agent.
“Our client Phil Mickelson is officially registered to play in the PGA Championship as well as the U.S. Open.
“We have also filed a request on his behalf for a release to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational in London, June 9-11. This request complies with the deadline of April 25 set forth by the PGA Tour to compete in a conflicting Tour event.
“Phil currently has no concrete plans on when and where he will play. Any actions taken are in no way a reflection of a final decision made, but rather to keep all options open.”
Got that? Phil Mickelson is signing up for the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open, plus the first event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational. But he doesn’t have any plans to play any of the above. He’s just letting us know that he’s keeping his options open.
We’re missing something here. We might be missing a whole lot of somethings. The contents of the statement itself are interesting — Mickelson didn’t have to tell us he has applied for a release to play the LIV event, as no other golfer has openly volunteered that information — and the delivery is interesting, too. Mickelson’s motivations aren’t entirely clear.
So now what? Here are 10 questions facing Phil Mickelson and the various powerful entities of men’s professional golf as we head into what promises to be a bizarre summer season.
1. Where will Mickelson play next?
We seem to have it narrowed down to two options, haven’t we? The most obvious opportunity for Mickelson’s return would be at the PGA Championship, in Tulsa, Okla., in mid-May. He has confirmed his registration, he’s the defending champion and it would be extremely strange for him not to attend the first anniversary of his greatest late-career accomplishment.
But these are strange times, so if you’re a massive Mickelson fan I wouldn’t go booking your flights to Tulsa just yet. There’s plenty of chatter that Mickelson still won’t play. I’m not sure if that would be because the PGA of America isn’t keen on Mickelson’s LIV plans, or if they have an understanding with the PGA Tour that we don’t know about, or if Mickelson-slash-LIV are so eager to build hype for the first event that they’d have Mickelson sit out until then. If any of the above are true, well, perhaps we’ll see him return at Centurion the second weekend in June. That would certainly get people’s attention.
2. What has Mickelson been doing, anyways?
Sources say he’s changed his number. Sources say he’s been skiing at the Yellowstone Club in Montana. Sources say he’s been laying lower than ever. Plenty of people have theorized about Mickelson being suspended from the PGA Tour or self-imposing a break to avoid an actual suspension. Less reliable sources say a whole bunch of other things, too, but it’s not worth typing those here because it has become sufficiently difficult to parse fact from fiction. The number of people guessing about the answer to this question means one thing: Everybody is searching for an answer.
“He’s gone dark,” Bryson DeChambeau said of Mickelson at the Masters. “There’s no contact.”
At least, until the last couple days, when Mickelson was spotted playing at San Diego-area private clubs. It appears his comeback is in process. What he’s coming back to is less clear.
When Mickelson announced his leave from competitive golf he said he had “often failed myself and others too.” He added that over the last decade he has felt stress deeply affecting him.
“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.”
I say this earnestly: Whatever else was truthful or not about in that statement, if Mickelson meant the last part I hope he has spent some time working toward this pursuit during his hiatus from professional golf.
Update! On Wednesday evening, just after this story was published, a video surfaced of Mickelson playing at Rancho Sante Fe GC, near Mickelson’s San Diego-area home:
3. How many LIV events will Mickelson play?
All eight events held in 2022, according to a report from the Telegraph. That would be in line with prior expectations for Mickelson, who helped form the vision for the league (that’s where all the drama began). When pros first expressed their interest, one potential structure for signing up was committing all-in and receiving guaranteed money in return. Others had looser agreements and were able to opt out at a later date. It’s possible Mickelson was in the former group.
The Telegraph‘s report says that Mickelson would forfeit a $30 million payout if he missed the events. Given his recent sponsorship losses — and given the goal here was to make money in the first place — passing that up would seem unlikely.
4. Who will join him in LIV events?
Here’s what’s interesting: So far only Robert Garrigus and Mickelson have confirmed that they have applied for releases from the PGA Tour for the first event at Centurion. Perhaps Mickelson’s announcement was intended to provide cover for other players. Either way, SI.com has reported that 15 top-100 players have applied for releases to play that first event. The PGA Tour has precedent to grant those releases, too, because Greg Norman has made it clear that (perhaps with the exception of Mickelson and a few others) playing one event isn’t binding. The Tour could therefore view it as a one-off like the Saudi International.
But when LIV comes to Portland, Ore., in July, on the other hand, the Tour will face a different dilemma. The event is being played opposite the John Deere Classic, and the PGA Tour doesn’t grant releases for events held in the U.S. So who will fill the 48-player field?
And who else has expressed interest? Telegraph Sport has reported that several other big names have handed in their forms, too, including Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen. At No. 15 in the world, Oosthuizen is the highest-ranked pro to reportedly sign up thus far. A field announcement is expected in May.
5. What’s up with the vision for LIV, anyway?
Rather than the initial 14-team vision, Greg Norman has changed courses to a two-year trial period — eight events this season, 10 events next season — with less emphasis on the team format and more flexibility in how many events pros are required to play. Here’s what he told SI.com last week:
“We will be doing it like this for the next two years,’’ he said. “We have eight invitational series events this year, 10 next year. And we will do thorough testing of how everything works. We will still do team events and then the league will be up and running in 2024. We’re just giving them an opportunity to go play one time for $25 million or seven times for $25 million with the ability to qualify for the team championship.’’
6. What of the Premier Golf League?
I understand if you’ve lost track of the difference, but while the Premier Golf League is laying low, it hasn’t gone away. If the LIV format proves appealing but certain specifics prove undesirable — anything from, say, the Saudi government’s backing to Norman’s involvement to threatened bans from the PGA Tour — perhaps there’s still room for the PGL to come in and present itself as an alternative in partnership with the PGA Tour itself. I expect we’ll hear an appeal along those lines in the coming weeks.
7. What will the PGA Tour do to LIV Golf participants?
I mentioned this above but there’s a real possibility the PGA Tour will grant releases for the first event at Centurion to show that they’re accommodating. But when LIV comes to the U.S., expect things to get messier. We’re going to end up in court one way or another.
8. What will the Ryder Cup do to LIV Golf participants?
Some of the reported names include Poulter, Westwood and Garcia, who have long been considered shoo-ins for European Ryder Cup captaincy. Mickelson has, of course, been considered the same on the U.S. side and was expected to helm the Americans as soon as Bethpage Black in 2025.
When Henrik Stenson was introduced as European captain, he implied that choosing the post meant turning down LIV opportunities. Now, Davis Love III has intimated that Mickelson’s role as captain is in question. But what is the point of no return? If Westwood plays one event, will that be disqualifying? Three events? Five? Luke Donald’s time may be coming sooner than we think.
9. What role will former President Trump play?
With two LIV events slated for Trump properties, including the finale at Trump Doral, there will be interesting geopolitical implications when LIV heads to South Florida in late October for its team championship. Doral served as PGA Tour host for 55 years before the event was moved in 2016. The timing is particularly interesting given that Voting Day for midterm elections comes less than two weeks later.
10. Where, as a viewer, will you decide to spend your time?
I’ll leave this one up to you.