Is Phil Mickelson suspended? Monahan’s answers give us clues
When we on the Golf Internet were delivered a social media post entitled “A Statement from Phil Mickelson” on Feb. 22, the attached paragraphs gave us plenty to parse through. There was a vague apology, an appeal for golf to change and a claim that his intent was always to support golfers and the game at large. But his sign-off, in which he claimed to “desperately need some time away,” triggered speculation: Is Phil Mickelson suspended?
On Tuesday, we got some answers. Sort of.
“Yeah, I think that as it relates to Phil, you said it; the ball is in his court,” said Jay Monahan, addressing the golf media ahead of this week’s 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.”
That conversation is not one that I would particularly look forward to, were I in Monahan’s sneakers. It would involve the fact that Mickelson repeatedly shredded the Tour for its media policies, player treatment and “obnoxious greed.” It would include some tough questions about whether Mickelson was in fact attempting to lead a breakaway group from the PGA Tour to start another league instead — or, just as awkward, feigning to do so in order to create more leverage against the Tour.
Monahan said that is not a conversation he has started.
“I have not talked to Phil since he made his comments and since he said that he was stepping away,” he said. “Like I said, I think the ball is in his court. I would welcome a phone call from him. But it’s hard for me to talk about the different scenarios that could play out.
“Listen, he’s a player that’s won 45 times on the PGA Tour. He’s had a Hall of Fame career. He’s won here at The Players Championship. He’s inspired a lot of people and helped grow this Tour, his Tour.
“So as difficult as it is to read some of the things that were said, ultimately a conversation will be had when he’s ready to have it, and I will be ready to have it, as well.”
What does that mean as far as a potential suspension goes? Monahan says he hasn’t spoken to Mickelson. And if Monahan hasn’t spoken to Mickelson, it’s unlikely he would have suspended him. That’s our first clue.
But if you’ll excuse the double-negative, Monahan also didn’t say that Mickelson wasn’t suspended. It was admission by omission. By contrast, he joked that Rory McIlroy, who had just called for greater transparency, was suspended “effective immediately.” His unwillingness to take the Mickelson issue head-on suggests that disciplinary action is at least on the table.
Why the secrecy? The simplest answer is that the Tour doesn’t talk about suspensions because they’ve never talked about suspensions. McIlroy called for an end to that — and even Monahan seemed open to the idea.
“It’s a criticism that has been lobbied against the PGA Tour through the years, and I think we always have to be open to evolving. That’s something that we are open to,” Monahan said.
He added that he hadn’t reached out to Mickelson, though he’d kept his own phone on. But finally Monahan was asked directly whether Mickelson was, in fact, suspended.
“It sounds the way you’re speaking as if he is suspended,” a reporter asked. “Had he wanted to play here this week, would he have been welcome?”
Monahan chose his words carefully.
“He stepped away on his own accord, and he’s asked for time. He’s been given that time. We don’t comment on disciplinary matters, potential matters or actual matters. But every player is accountable for their actions out here.”
Where does that leave us? Five options seem possible but not all of them seem probably. Here are those five ranked from least to most likely:
5. Mickelson is already secretly suspended.
This is certainly possible, given the Tour’s history of secret suspensions. But it seems unlikely here — Monahan was adamant that he hasn’t reached out to Mickelson and emphasized that he’d stepped away “on his own accord.” Plus if Mickelson had been suspended he would likely take that information public; it would fit into his anti-Tour narrative quite nicely.
4. Mickelson’s never coming back to the Tour anyway.
In this world he has signed an agreement with the new tour and might pop in at the Masters and the PGA Championship but will steer clear of any Monahan-run events. Still feels unlikely; when has Mickelson run from a game?
3. There was never any chance of Mickelson being suspended.
Despite Mickelson’s clear anti-Tour sentiments, it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what rule he would have broken to merit a suspension. Overt criticism? High treason? Sedition? It’s possible that Monahan and the gang would steer clear of any additional sanctions given the vagueness of his crimes and his overwhelming popularity (yes, still) among the golfing populace.
2. Mickelson is self-imposing sanctions.
This happens all the time in the NCAA when programs decide to keep the discipline in-house. As long as their self-imposed punishments satisfy the governing body, they don’t face additional scrutiny. In this scenario Mickelson’s absence is self-imposed and he’ll stay away while things die down before coming back for that awkward conversation and then, ultimately, a return to competition.
1. Discipline is still on the table but hasn’t yet been imposed.
Re-read Monahan’s choice of words: “We don’t comment on disciplinary matters, potential matters or actual matters. But every player is accountable for their actions out here.” That suggests that discipline is at least being considered. There are plenty of questions that Mickelson will face in order to return to the Tour. Is he still intending to leave and play the Saudi-backed breakaway league? Monahan has made it clear that players who leave won’t be welcomed back. So Mickelson might need a healthy dose of contrition and a little newfound loyalty, too, if he’s going to contend for title No. 46.
Monahan insisted that he’s moving on from the threat of a startup league. He reiterated that point several times. But that doesn’t mean he’s ignoring an ongoing threat.
“I wake up every day assuming someone is trying to take my lunch. That’s the way I operate,” Monahan said.
If and when Mickelson decides to return to PGA Tour competition, Monahan will have to decide if he’s there to play — or if he’s a lunch thief, undercover.