Phil Mickelson said he would be taking “some time away.” And now that leave of absence will overlap with the title defense of one of his greatest accomplishments.
Mickelson, who last year became golf’s oldest major champion with his PGA Championship victory, has withdrawn from this year’s tournament, the event said Friday. The announcement comes six days from the start of the year’s second major championship, to be played at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla.
“We have just been informed that Phil Mickelson has withdrawn from the PGA Championship,” the PGA Championship said in its release. “Phil is the defending champion and currently eligible to be a PGA Life Member and we would have welcomed him to participate. We wish Phil and Amy the very best and look forward to his return to golf.”
Last May, at the age of 50, Mickelson won the PGA Championship for his sixth major victory, but in the year since, he has been embroiled in controversy. Mickelson has not spoken or appeared in public since he apologized in February following comments on the LIV Golf Invitational 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 in his statement. “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.)
The excerpt detailed Mickelson’s involvement with LIV Golf, the new company headed by Greg Norman that is expected to launch the invitational series in early June 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.
“I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and many have been shared with the public,” Mickelson wrote in his statement. “My intent was never to hurt anyone and I’m so sorry to the people I have negatively impacted. This has always been about supporting the players and the game and I appreciate all the people who have given me the benefit of the doubt.
“Despite my belief that some changes have already been made within the overall discourse, I know I need to be accountable. For the past 31 years I have lived a very public life and I have strived to live up to my own expectations, be the role model the fans deserve, and be someone that inspires others. I’ve worked to compete at the highest level, be available to media, represent my sponsors with integrity, engage with volunteers and sign every autograph for my incredible fans. I have experienced many successful and rewarding moments that I will always cherish, but I have often failed myself and others too. The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. 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.”
Mickelson has also not played in an event since the Saudi International during the first week of February, though speculation grew over his return two weeks ago, when Mickelson’s agent said the player had registered to play in both the PGA and next month’s 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. And this week, the Tour denied all of its members’ requests for the LIV tournament.
Earlier this week, Mickelson did, albeit briefly, returned to Twitter, when he liked two tweets, then unliked them. What Mickelson was interacting with may also give you a hint at where his feelings lie. Mickelson liked a comment that said, “Yet @PhilMickelson gets canceled…WTF,” which was in response to a tweet from media personality Clay Travis, who wrote, “The NBA, which pulled its All Star Game out of Charlotte over a transgender bathroom bill, is playing games next year in the United Arab Emirates where homosexuality is punishable by death.” He also liked a tweet that read, “PGA Tour block rebels including Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood from Saudi breakaway series #YahooSports #GOLF #P…,” from an account entitled “offthebooks.crypto,” which appears to be a news aggregator.
As for the PGA Championship, Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA of America, said last week on the 5 Clubs Conversation podcast that he had had “a number of conversations” with Mickelson. Waugh 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.”