Phil Mickelson’s arrival at the U.S. Open? Purposefully quiet
LOS ANGELES — The first two days of U.S. Open week had a little bit of everything, but until Wednesday morning this tournament was still missing one important piece: Phil Mickelson. The man we haven’t really heard from.
The 6-time major winner, who needs a U.S. Open victory more than anyone on the planet, was oddly absent from the grounds on Monday and Tuesday, unavailable to be asked for his thoughts on the planned partnership between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
Instead, Mickelson was practicing closer to home, in Rancho Santa Fe, a couple hours south of Los Angeles. Only on Wednesday morning did his name finally grace the tee sheet, scheduled for a 10:25 a.m departure off the 10th hole, and only early Wednesday afternoon did he offer his speaking plans for the moment:
“I’ll be happy to talk later,” Mickelson told GOLF.com. “I just don’t want to waste any energy on it at the beginning of the week.”
Fair enough. The majority of golfers in the field have reached a point of disinterest in talking about the stunning announcement from last week. But Mickelson is obviously a different case. No single player has been more embroiled in the debate about the future of professional golf. He may not want to spend any extra energy on the ordeal right now, but is he set to let it all dissipate quietly? Not exactly.
“I still want to see stuff come out in discovery,” Mickelson said, referring to the various legal maneuvers that the PGA Tour and LIV Golf were working through in separate lawsuits against each other, as recently as 10 days ago. Many PGA Tour and LIV Golf employees and players have been or were scheduled to be deposed. An endless stream of documents and communications have been shared between both parties.
Will discovery proceed in that ecosystem or another? It remains to be seen. We have reached a new level of national interest in recent days as various lawmakers have begun investigating the legality of the framework agreement between the once-warring parties. The Department of Justice continues to investigate the actions of governing bodies in pro golf.
For now? The U.S. Open, and a true test of patience for everyone, outside and inside the ropes. “Nothing is happening anytime soon,” Mickelson said, shrugging his shoulders and moving back to play the tiny plot of chaos that is the 124-yard 15th hole. It may be the truest assessment anyone has made.
In a way, the Mickelson that we see at the U.S. Open is exactly what we could have expected. The fans treated him kindly, like they often have. He popped cherry-flavored recovery gummies, his new on-course obsession. He wears Air Jordans now. Today’s were of the Cactus Jack variety, a collaboration between Nike and rapper Travis Scott. Not saying much? That counts, too.
Concerns about Mickelson’s early-week absence can be quelled by the fact that he’s been in the area a lot. Perhaps no player in the field visited LACC as much as Mickelson recently. He was even on property when the news broke last week.
He played LACC’s back nine Wednesday with a trio of Spaniards: Jon Rahm, fellow LIV golfer David Puig, and Alejandro Del Rey. We would call that a comfy group (almost as comfy as his Keegan Bradley-Padraig Harrington tee times will be on Thursday and Friday). Rahm and Mickelson share a performance coach, Dave Phillips. Tim Mickelson used to be Rahm’s college coach before he became Rahm’s agent, before he became his brother’s caddie. More than any other top-ranked pro, Rahm has left Mickelson’s decisions over the last 15 months untouched. Some relationships Mickelson has with pro golfers have strengthened while others have been severed, perhaps forever.
Rahm’s loyalty — both to Mickelson and the PGA Tour — seems to look better each day. He still gets to pick the brain of one of the best wedge artists the game has ever seen. When Mickelson chipped from behind the 13th green Wednesday, Rahm slid in to ask about a particularly vexing aspect of Los Angeles Country Club: What do you do when your ball is sort of hovering in the rough around the green? It sits there in the thick stuff, beneath the tips of the grass, but not sunken down to the soil below. How do you keep from swiping under the ball, or having it slide up the club face? Mickelson says he actually releases his hands ever so slightly, squaring up the face of the club a touch, clipping more of the ball with a smoother swing to keep it from coming out of the lie in a “dead” way.
If that explanation put your mind in a pretzel, you’re forgiven. Everyone on the green stopped to watch, players and caddies included. It didn’t make sense to Rahm, either, so he had Mickelson explain it again. The reigning Masters champion seems to be a visual learner. He also has a much different wrist-action than Mickelson does. Nonetheless, he said he learned something. It was an example of that Mickelson of old, handing out wedge lessons like a tenured professor. He used to do it all the time on social media, before things got weird. Will we get back to that somehow in the new world order of golf? The most popular saying in this sport right now is clear: You know as much as I do. You probably know as much as Mickelson does, too.
But just because we’ve entered into an odd waiting period with the news cycle doesn’t mean there aren’t lingering thoughts kicking around in his mind. We may not be treated to it much this week, but you could see it in a lively conversation Mickelson had with CBS broadcast reporter Colt Knost in the middle of the 14th fairway.
Knost and Mickelson had a social media dust-up six weeks ago. Knost offered to discuss their differences on his podcast (which is produced by GOLF.com). Mickelson declined. So, where did they stand now? Knost stepped in to find out. Had their interaction been mic’d up on a broadcast, a few of Mickelson’s first words would have quickly been bleeped. But after about 10 minutes, it ended with a handshake as they parted ways. It seems to be the theme of the week here in the golf world: Moving on.