Phil Mickelson is told where he stands — as only Western New Yorkers can  

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson on the 10th hole at Oak Hill Country Club on Thursday.

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — We received some hint as to how the proceedings would go a few hours earlier, when the 9th-hole marshals at Oak Hill Country Club were undergoing a shift change. And the marshal captain had this warning for the newcomers.  

“There was some heckling earlier,” he said. “So get ready.”

Oh boy. And that was at 1. 

To those who are new here, Western New Yorkers love their Bills, love their Sabres, hate their tailgate tables and toast with Genesee. But most key here is these wonderfully salt-of-the-earth folks are very much not afraid to tell ya like it is. If you’re a king, you’re worshiped. If you’re a bum, you’re doomed. Of course, both hear English that would make green grass blush. 

So, yes, we got ready.  

Coming to hole No. 1 on Day 1 of the PGA Championship, after all, was none other than Phil Mickelson

Mickelson, the 2021 PGA champion. Mickelson, who never actually defended that crown after a 2022 like none other in golf the words describing the Saudi Arabian funders of the tour he now plays for, the departure from golf, the return, the recent combative tweets. Oh, and Mickelson, your 2023 Masters runner-up. But if anyone was going to tell Lefty where he stood, it was going to be this bunch. 

Let’s listen in. Maybe it will tell us something. 

Mickelson was respectfully one over with two holes remaining when play was suspended here Thursday due to darkness, and he’s six shots back of the top. The real story, though, was told by the customers, who, at times, were six to eight deep, ran to his shots to secure the best views — and did not stick around for the players in the groups behind.  

“The showman!”

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That came after his third shot into the par-4 10th, which he put to 3 feet. Lefty entertained. On a day when the pros were mostly floored by Oak Hill, Mickelson hit shots. He bogeyed the par-4 6th after slapping his second shot into the lip of the bunker — more on that below — and he bogeyed the par-3 11th after his tee shot came up short on the 248-yard hole, but he was mostly clean everywhere else. He birdied the par-5 13th after dropping his third shot to 7 feet, and his final shot of the day before play was suspended was a lash from the left rough, from 220 out, that somehow found the green on the par-4 17th.      

Thursday had followed the Masters runner-up finish, though his play in LIV play has been, at best, a mixed bag over the past month — 45th last week in Tulsa, 15th in Singapore at the end of last month, and 16th in Australia in the middle of last month.  

“I’m going to go on a tear pretty soon,” Mickelson said at the Masters. “You wouldn’t think it. You look at the scores. But I’ve been playing exactly how I played yesterday, hitting the ball great, turning 65s, 66s into 77s. I’m ready to go on a tear.”

“Oh, that’s gotta get left!” 

“Head’s up!” 

The second quote came after the bunker shot on 6, which hit the lip, popped almost straight up and finished a few yards straight and out to the right. 

Of course, this is also Mickelson, forever the high-wire act. Phil the thrill. The weird is always only a swing away. 

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“Come on, Lefty, you savage!” 

A sequence on the par-4 8th was everything. Mickelson sliced left. One of his playing partners, Patrick Cantlay, hooked one in that direction. The hole marshall first moved fans to create a window to the green for Mickelson. Then he created a window for Cantlay. Mickelson was now boxed in by the crowd. There’s more. 

As this box started to form, a man in a blue quarter-zip and shorts and a cell got closer. And closer. And closer. He looked around. He literally was creeping. He took a few more steps. He looked around. “You waiting?” he asked Mickelson. Mickelson nodded. Then the man just stood there. He had his chance. He didn’t say anything more. This was a bit disappointing. He did take a pic. 

Cantlay hit. Mickelson’s window was recreated. Mickelson hit to the green. And a fan shouted:  “Come on, Lefty, you savage!” 

Phil the thrill. Indeed.

“Here you go, buddy.”

That was from Mickelson himself. Walking off the par-3 3rd, he gave his ball to a kid. 

Forever the showman. 

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“Looking good, Phil!” 

“Phil got too skinny.” 

Nothing was left uncovered. Mickelson’s body, or now somewhat lack thereof, was a target, though most thoughts were complimentary.  

At the least here, folks here have been paying attention. Mickelson has talked openly over the past few years of his diet and weight loss, and last month at the Masters, he said he dropped 25 pounds. 

“I stopped eating food, that was a big help,” Mickelson said then. “I lost 25 pounds. Then I had — I also lost muscle, so I had to start lifting, and I’ve been lifting and slowly have been getting my speed and strength back to where I need it to be.

“I’m just going to keep it going this year and continue down that path because, if you watch like some of these guys out here today, how far and how fast they’re able to swing the club, it’s really amazing. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to win. You still have to hit the shots and manage your way around the game, manage your game around the course, but I’ve got to be in shape to be able to have a speed that allows me to compete.”

Oooooh, snakeskin! What is that? Some sort of reptile!”

“Phil, that belt is really something special, man.” [Mickelson laughed.] 

Mickelson’s belt was indeed fashionable, though he’s worn it in the past. 

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Though while we’re on the subject, his bag said HyFlyers, his team with LIV. His hat and shirt had the logo, too. His shirt collar said LIV Golf. Notably, according to a Wall Street Journal story published last April, LIVers are required to wear “appropriate” team apparel. 

“He’s counting the Saudi millions!”

These jabs weren’t frequent, but they were there. 

It’s been a year-plus now since the Saudi comments, and he’s played in 14 LIV events, along with four major championships. 

Do the comments tell us anything?

Do the lack of comments?

Take all of this for what you will. Today, we’ll just observe. 

“Phil, smile for the camera! Tiger would!”

“Just Tiger wins!”

Yeah, they still talk about that Tiger guy. 

There’s one last thing. Here’s how Mickelson actually finished his day at Oak Hill: a GOLF.com reporter saw him taking practice swings. Next to his car in the parking lot. Always thinking of the swing. Just like so many of the fans who had watched him. 

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.

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