After taking a leave of absence from pro golf for 3 1/2 months, Phil Mickelson is set to return this week. The highly anticipated appearance will not come at a PGA Tour event or a major championship, though, but rather at the LIV Golf Invitational in London.
It was long rumored Mickelson would possibly return in London, but was made official in a press release from LIV Golf CEO, Greg Norman, Monday afternoon. Mickelson made his own announcement 20 minutes later, saying, “I am ready to come back to play the game I love, but after 32 years this new path is a fresh start, one that is exciting for me at this stage of my career and is clearly transformative, not just for myself, but ideally for the game and my peers.”
It was on Feb. 22 when Mickelson announced he would be taking “some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be,” just days after comments he made in a recently published biography unearthed misgivings he had with the PGA Tour and steps he made to aid LIV Golf Investments in creating a rival series of events. The comments also included Mickelson’s purpose for entertaining contracts with a brand funded by the Saudi Arabian government: leverage at the bargaining table with the PGA Tour. “They’re scary m——–kers to get involved with,” Mickelson said, invoking several human rights issues with the Saudi government, but concluded that “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
The blowback was quick and fierce as Mickelson’s comments were covered internationally, as well as by the New York Times and Washington Post. Even his fellow peers were quick to deride his comments at the time, using it as an opportunity to pledge their allegiance to the PGA Tour.
Now, one-hundred and four days after taking leave — in which the 51-year-old went completely silent on social media — Mickelson is part of the 48-player field, playing in an event we’ve never seen before. The first 42 names were announced last week, making waves when two-time major winner Dustin Johnson was announced as the highest-ranked player involved.
The event, which begins Thursday at Centurion Club outside London, will be 54 holes, beginning with a shotgun start. It will consist of 48 players, all selected onto 12 four-man teams during a draft on Tuesday. Teams and captains will be announced during Tuesday’s draft, as well as team names. Mickelson will almost surely be one of the 12 captains.
What remains unclear are Mickelson’s intentions with the PGA Tour, where he has enjoyed a 30-year career. In his statement released Monday afternoon, he noted he was “thankful for everything this game and the PGA Tour has given” him, but did not mention playing Tour events, or even trying to. He said, “I am thrilled to begin with LIV Golf and I appreciate everyone involved. I also intend to play the majors.”
It is possible that Mickelson faced disciplinary action earlier this spring when the initial news broke, but the Tour does not make that information public. It is also possible that this move, as Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has suggested, will lead to a ban of sorts on Mickelson’s involvement with the Tour. It was back in early March when Monahan said he had not discussed anything with Mickelson. “I think that as it relates to Phil, you said it; the ball is in his court,” Monahan said during the Players Championship. “He has said that he’s stepping away and he wants time for reflection. That’s something that I and we are going to respect and honor.
“When he’s ready to come back to the PGA Tour, we’re going to have that conversation. That’s a conversation I look forward to.”
Mickelson did not return to the Tour in the months since, even refusing to play in the year’s first two major championships, which are both run by non-Tour governing bodies. Mickelson texted Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley that he would not be playing at the Masters in April, and informed the PGA Championship that he would not defend his title at Southern Hills. Both announcements came via the tournaments themselves, not Mickelson.
As for now, there is at least one date for Mickelson to play golf publicly, and that’s just days away. The U.S. Open, operated by the USGA and the one major championship Mickelson has never won, will take place one week later in Massachusetts.