This is a special edition of Lefty-Righty, in which your right-handed correspondent answers a host of questions about the world’s most famous left-handed golfer, Phil Mickelson. The questions are the author’s, and the responses are nothing more than his best-guess answers based on reporting, idle chat and tea-leaf reading.
Q1. Did the PGA Tour suspend Phil?
A. Short answer: My opinion is, yes, the Tour did.
But there’s a longer answer.
On Feb. 17, Alan Shipnuck, author of a new biography of Mickelson, reported incendiary comments that Mickelson made to the writer. The comments themselves were made last November, as Mickelson talked about his interest in LIV Golf, a Saudi-funded golf company run by Greg Norman. LIV Golf was then seeking to start an ambitious world golf tour with massive payouts that would feature, its organizers hoped, the game’s biggest names.
You likely have heard that Mickelson described certain members of the Saudi ruling class as “scary mother—-ers.” That would be an example of speaking truth to power. That comment would certainly not get Mickelson suspended by the PGA Tour, and likely not even fined. That remark was bad for Greg Norman and LIV, which meant it was actually good for Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, and the PGA Tour.
Then there is this comment that Mickelson made to Shipnuck, regarding PGA Tour officials:
“They are sitting on an $800 million cash stockpile. How do you think they’re funding the PIP? Or investing $200 million in the European Tour? The Tour is supposed to be a nonprofit that distributes money to charity. How the f— is it legal for them to have that much cash on hand? The answer is, it’s not. But they always want more and more. They have to control everything.”
That comment would likely result in a fine for Mickelson, for degrading the PGA Tour while being a member of the Tour. By long tradition, Tour members are supposed to support the Tour. But those are not comments that would get you suspended.
Then there is this seemingly less explosive sentence, written by Shipnuck and containing just one two-word quote from Mickelson:
“Mickelson told me he had enlisted three other ‘top players’ he declined to name and that they paid for attorneys to write the [LIV Golf] operating agreement, codifying that the players would have control of all the details.“
Now that surely gets you suspended. Not the sentence. The details and the actions behind it. Those actions are acts of rebellion and disloyalty and actions of rebellion and disloyalty could get you a long suspension, if not worse. LIV’s success could come at the expense of hundreds of current and future PGA Tour players. By that logic, any supporter, founder, backer or organizer of LIV Golf would be the sworn enemy of the PGA Tour, and by extension its supporters. That’s why Fred Ridley, the Augusta National chairman, has been unwilling to even talk to Greg Norman about LIV Golf and its plans. This is war. In war, you take sides.
The obvious implication is that Mickelson, as a member of the Tour, was doing work, including recruitment, that would undermine the basic health of the Tour. No organization would tolerate such acts. You could get suspended for life for that. The two sides could have lawyered this out for months but that would not have served either side. More likely, it went like this:
PGA Tour official:
This was an act of conspiracy that undermines the PGA Tour. We are going to conduct an investigation and are considering a lifetime ban.
We get it, we get it — this time you’re really mad. Phil will take a leave and he won’t come back until you guys say it’s OK to do so.
On Feb. 22, only five days after Shipnuck made Mickelson’s November comments public, Mickelson said this in a written statement on social media, white lettering, black background:
“I know I have not been my best and I desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love the most and work being the man I want to be.”
You can read that as a leave. Or as, I’m suspending myself before you do it for me.
Yes, a long answer. For all intents and purposes, as I read the tea leaves, Mickelson is suspended.
Q2. Could Mickelson have played in the Masters?
Let’s say I’m correct, that in the PGA Tour’s view, Mickelson is suspended. Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National, is always going to back the PGA Tour, just as the PGA Tour has always backed the Masters and Augusta National. Ridley is always going to put institutional needs ahead of any individual player’s needs. The PGA Tour is going to do the same for Augusta, and has.
For instance, Masters earnings and victories were official in the PGA Tour books even in the years when Augusta National had no women members, in violation of PGA Tour requirements for nondiscriminatory practices for its venues. The Tour said the Masters was an invitational and a private club event. In other words, it created a semantical loophole.
It was not surprising that shortly after Tim Finchem retired as PGA Tour commissioner in 2016 he became a member of Augusta National. In the wake of the LIV and Mickelson news, Finchem’s successor, Jay Monahan, said that the PGA Tour is about “legacy, not leverage,” the latter a word he borrowed from Mickelson, only to mock it.
You probably know the phrase “circling the wagons.” There’s a lot of that going around.
Q3. Could Mickelson show up at the Tuesday-night Champions Dinner?
A. Stranger things have happened.
Q4. Will Mickelson play in the PGA Championship in mid-May at Southern Hills, the tournament he won last year at age 50?
A. Highly unlikely. The PGA of America, like Augusta National, will back the PGA Tour. Best guess here is that Mickelson will not resurface on Tour until he repudiates all involvement with Greg Norman’s LIV series of eight invitational events, backed by an enormous Saudi investment fund. And Mickelson is unlikely to do that.
Norman, by the way, has said LIV had to reconfigure its world golf tour plans for 2022 after Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau announced their loyalty to the PGA Tour.
Q5. Isn’t Rahm, like Mickelson, represented by Steve Loy?
A. He is.
Q6. Isn’t that awkward for Loy?
A. It’s not tea at Tiffany’s.
Q7. So of the eight, big-bucks announced LIV events, how many do you think Rahm will play?
Q8. How many do you think Mickelson will play?
Q9. Really? Why would Mickelson still want to be aligned with that tour after the nasty things he has said about the Saudis?
A. Follow the money. Mickelson has lost huge amounts of income when he was dropped, temporarily or otherwise, by Callaway, KPMG, American Express and Workday. He can make a large sum over the course of 2022 with the LIV league — $10 million would be a conservative estimate. He leads an expensive life, even if he doesn’t have his own jet anymore.
Q10. Right, right. Also, there’s got to be collateral damage in this whole thing, right?
A. I assume you are thinking about Phil’s brother and caddie, Tim Mickelson. Yes, Phil needs to play for Tim to caddie. Another reason to think Mickelson will play these eight LIV events.
Q11. Even the LIV event at the Trump course in New Jersey?
A. You mean Trump Bedminster, the course where the PGA was supposed to be in May? That one might give him some pause. Or not.
Q12. Will Mickelson play in the 2022 U.S. Open?
A. It is hard to imagine Phil not playing in the U.S. Open, the missing piece in his quest for the career grand slam. If he could somehow recapture the magic from last year’s PGA, he could contend at Brookline. By its very nature — as an open event — it would be hard to keep Mickelson out of the field.
Q13. How about the British Open in St. Andrews?
A. I think he plays.
Q14. Broadly, what is Phil’s path back to being Phil again?
A. Phil, over time, will double-down on being Phil. Great talker. An expert in golf, the NFL, talking trash, talking period, telling stories, living large, being Phil. He has an enormous fanbase. That base will always support him. He’ll sell coffee. He’ll talk on TV, or on his own YouTube channel. He’ll have his own line of clubs, sunglasses. He’ll ink a huge sponsorship deal with DraftKings or bet365. He’ll be OK.
Q15. Will Phil ever be a Ryder Cup captain?
A. Only if he forsakes, disavows, etc., etc. Or if the balance of power in the game undergoes a sea change.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com