Tour Confidential: Phil Mickelson sounds off, but was he right?
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we break down Phil Mickelson’s surprising press conference, Rickie Fowler’s return to form and golf video games.
Phil Mickelson, for the first time in what seemed like a very long time, riffed on a variety of topics during his pre-tournament presser at LIV Golf’s Jeddah event, including his decision to join LIV. “I see LIV Golf trending upwards, I see the PGA Tour trending downwards, and I love the side that I’m on,” Mickelson said. Mickelson, of course, is biased, but is there any truth to his answer?
Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): Is LIV trending up? Yes. With each successful tournament and big-name star they sign, they gain even more momentum. But is the Tour trending down? Hardly. With the improvements they’re making to the schedule, I’d argue it’s on the upswing, too.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): LIV can’t really begin to attract more fans until it gets a TV deal, and there’s obviously still confusion regarding when that’s going to happen. YouTube streams aren’t going to cut it. I don’t think the PGA Tour is in a bad place, though. They lost some big names but how many of them were playing at a high level lately? Just a few. It will be interesting to see how the Tour’s elevated events shake out in 2023. Will they feel bigger to the average fan?
Sean Zak, senior writer (@sean_zak): It’s campaign season folks! Mickelson is doing his best modern politicking — explaining things away quickly and simply when the truth is just far more complex. The PGA Tour is not trending downwards. Sorry, Phil.
Last week was also the first time Mickelson’s been in Saudi Arabia since controversial comments he made last year led to him taking a leave of absence. There was a lot to unpack about Mickelson’s few minutes from the media, but what was your biggest takeaway from the most candid version of Phil we’ve seen for quite some time?
Melton: His claim that he “never did an interview with Alan Shipnuck” was a curious one considering he issued an apology after the fact back in the spring. I’d wager his attempt at revisionist history is likely a strategy we’ll see from many LIVers in the future.
Berhow: It sounds like his comments about speaking with Alan (or not speaking with him) were more related to it not being an “interview” since Phil still claims it was off the record. (Shipnuck says otherwise.) That said the guy was in a tricky spot, back in Saudi Arabia and having to touch on that topic. But I digress. I think the Phil we saw in that pre-tournament presser proved he’s settling in a little bit. He had to keep a low profile after his comments from February made worldwide news but now he’s getting a little more comfortable and letting it fly. How much of it is truthful and how much of it is a spin? That’s up to interpretation.
Zak: My biggest takeaway is I’d like Mickelson to step forward with some facts, context and nuance next time he wants to go deep. His public discussion of media rights in January? Littered with half-truths, as reported by GOLF.com’s James Colgan. His “I never did an interview with Alan Shipnuck” line this week reeked of Aaron Rodgers’ deceitful immunized/vaccinated storyline from last fall. For years, the treasure of Mickelson in front of a mic was not knowing what he’s going to say. Now he feels predictable and deceptive. It’s not a great look.
The battle for — and conversation regarding — world ranking points rages on. While the vast majority of LIV players say they should receive them, Harold Varner III offered some fresh perspective: “I think it’s easy to sit here and say what could happen, what should happen. But obviously for me, I knew what was going to happen. It wasn’t going to be easy. I think the people at LIV did an unbelievable job, because I don’t know about the checkmarks [to get points]. Honestly, I could care less. I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew what could happen in my career, and I accept that.” Is Varner thinking differently than his peers, or simply the only one to say it out loud?
Melton: He’s just the only one saying it out loud. You’d have to be extremely obtuse not to assume backlash would come in the PR battle considering the optics of this whole thing.
Berhow: He seems to be the one thinking most logically. Yes, Dustin Johnson is in the field and one of the 15 best golfers on the planet, but there are still boxes that need to be checked in this process. It’s a weird situation for the OWGR. How do you properly weigh an event that has someone like DJ playing against World No. 691 Turk Pettit, and over just 54 holes? We haven’t really seen this before. For the guys who truly believe these points should just be granted with the snap of a finger, they are either naive, entitled or were perhaps just being misled when they joined LIV Golf.
Zak: There are a few LIV golfers who are actually speaking for themselves, and it seems Varner is one of them. Brooks Koepka seems to be another but the list is short. The players who are trumpeting LIV’s OWGR application as faultless — Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed — are regurgitating a company line that is fantastical in nature. The more players who speak like Varner and Koepka, ironically, the more respect LIV Golf will earn.
Keegan Bradley made a long birdie putt on the 71st hole to win the Zozo Championship on Sunday in Japan, beating Rickie Fowler and Andrew Putnam by one. It was Bradley’s fifth career PGA Tour victory and first since 2018. In the process he beat Fowler, the second- and third-round leader, who sits at five career victories and hasn’t had one since 2019. It was an emotional win for Bradley but another close call for Fowler. Who needed this victory more?
Berhow: Neither of their bank accounts really needed this latest check, and kudos to Keegan for pulling this off — you could see how much it meant to him afterward — but I think it would have been bigger for Rickie. He hasn’t played as well as Keegan the last few years and has staked his named to the PGA Tour in the battle vs. LIV. (Remember, Fowler was on that jet with Tiger that went to Hartford for that rallying cry.) Fowler’s still a huge name in the golf world and would have secured a pretty substantial contract to go to LIV, and winning on Tour now would have helped validate his decision. Regardless it was a good week for Rickie, who has turned in top 10s in two of his three starts this season. One last thing about Fowler — he’s long been criticized for having just five career Tour wins, but I was shocked today when I realized he’s had 15 (!) runner-up finishes. Man, coulda would shoulda, but turn a few of those into Ws and look at what it does for Fowler’s career.
Zak: Rickie needed the win more. Their droughts were virtually the same, but Rickie had become an average performer. Bradley was still elite tee-to-green, a la Adam Scott, just waiting for a great putting week. Fowler’s game has shown no elite aspects the last two years, and even if that might start changing with Butch Harmon back in tow, Fowler has plenty to prove.
PGA Tour 2K23 released last week with Tiger Woods on the cover, while EA Sports dropped a teaser for its own upcoming golf video game. But, in short, Tiger is only available in the PGA Tour 2K23 version, while getting to play Augusta National is only available via EA Sports. So, Tiger or Augusta? Which one will most golf fans choose?
Melton: Why not both? If you’re buying one golf video game, you’re likely buying all the golf video games. The real question is which game will be better.
Berhow: As a grown man who played a ton of video games in high school and college but probably hasn’t in 10 years, I welcome this question as I reflect on those glorious gaming days. (Pretty sure the last golf game I owned had Ty Tryon as a golfer you could play with for some reason.) But I’d want to play Augusta National over playing as Tiger, and plus, can’t you still create your own golfer? I’d much rather do that and see if I can conquer Augusta and take on the world in the hilarious outfit I customize for myself. But let’s be real, none of these can possibly be better than Mario Golf, right?
Zak: Most golf fans will choose Tiger for now. But come February and March when those lovely Masters commercials start playing, the same golf fans are going to start jonesing for their own spin around Amen Corner. As Zephyr said, why not both?