When will Phil Mickelson play again? Will he ever? All good questions.
What do we think is behind Phil not playing? Phil decided not to? He was encouraged by the PGA of America not to?
That text came to me this morning. You may have gotten one similar. Or raised questions like those yourself on your phone, at your water cooler or near your beer cart. They’re good questions. And unsurprising.
Say what you will about the proceedings over the past few months, but the subject of Phil Mickelson, wherever he may be, is as popular (notorious?) as it’s ever been. So let’s try to piece together some answers.
What happened Friday?
Let’s get the easy question out of the way first. This we know. In what looked like all the makings of a Friday afternoon news dump, the PGA Championship tweeted out a 52-word statement that said Mickelson had withdrawn from this year’s tournament, which tees off Thursday at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. Last May, Mickelson, at 50, became the oldest ever to win a major championship, his sixth overall. This May, he’ll be … somewhere.
We’ll try to condense what happened in between. Mickelson has not spoken or appeared in public since he apologized in February following comments on the LIV Golf Invitational series, a new, Saudi Arabia-funded golf league. In those comments, published as an excerpt on firepitcollective.com in advance of a Mickelson biography, Lefty called his new partners “scary motherf———s,” and he also insisted that PGA Tour media rights should be redistributed more equitably to Tour members.
And then he was gone. A few weeks ago, Mickelson’s agent said the player had registered to play in both the PGA and next month’s U.S. Open, along with requesting a release from the PGA Tour to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event, which is June 9-11 in London. But those were just procedural moves.
Was the Mickelson decision a surprise?
Depends whom you ask. Let’s frame the sides. The non-shocker contingent will tell you that a Mickelson appearance would have been a carnival, and that it makes sense that he chose to sit out so as not to detract from the event. Yes, a press conference would have been held early, but the questions would have been asked throughout.
Then again, do you really believe that Mickelson would not return at the site of perhaps his greatest accomplishment, just so the spotlight could be spread rightfully? Yes there would be heat, but when has that seemed to matter? Mickelson is an alpha. And alphas tend to think they’re bulletproof. It’s one of the reasons he’s in this mess to begin with, and it makes his choice to withdraw a shock.
Was Mickelson banned from playing?
Then again, maybe the decision wasn’t his.
That being said, all we have are the words of the folks in charge of making those kinds of calls, and it sounds like he wasn’t. Sounds like. Let’s start with the PGA Championship. In the statement on Friday, it noted: “Phil is the defending champion and currently eligible to be a PGA Life Member and we would have welcomed him to participate.” This follows what Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA of America, said last week on the 5 Clubs Conversation podcast.
““I’ve had a number of conversations with him before, you know, call it, last fall and since then and recently,” he said. “I think he, you know, he is — you said it well, I think he’s trying to figure out when the right time for him is. I think the game is trying to figure out the right time for him, too. How long is long enough? And is he ready mentally and physically to do it?” (We’ll get to the physical part in a sec.)
At last month’s Masters, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley was more direct. Speaking at his annual state of the Masters press conference on the day before the tournament, Ridley said, “We did not disinvite Phil.”
“In Phil’s case, he made a personal decision,” Ridley said. “I don’t know anything beyond that. I know that Phil has been a real figure here at the Masters for many, many years. He’s been a big part of our history. We certainly wish him the best sort of working through the issues he’s working with right now.”
What about the PGA Tour? At the Players Championship in March, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the “ball is in his court,” though he also chose his words carefully.
“He stepped away on his own accord, and he’s asked for time,” he said. “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.”
Is there another reason Mickelson is not playing?
Is it possible that Mickelson’s absence from golf has nothing to do with his association with the LIV enterprise?
That was posed to me in an email last night. Good question, too. Possibly, and that would center around the thought that his break hasn’t been kind to his game. We have seen one video of him playing recently, albeit grainy and from behind, when the Fire Pit Collective website tweeted out late last month a two-second video of Mickelson hitting a tee shot at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club in California.
Another member of the Fire Pit staff, Matt Ginella, tweeted this early Saturday:
“The San Diego rumor mill has Phil playing bad golf at local courses. I’ve heard two recent rounds in the high-70s at The Farms, which factored into the pass on PGA.”
When could Mickelson play again?
Well, if you believe Monahan, he could potentially tee it up the week after the PGA, at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial.
The thing is, any event on the PGA Tour is going to be super-charged should Mickelson play in it. The Memorial makes some sense. Or the U.S. Open, where, as we noted above, he’s registered. A PGA Tour Champions event could also be a consideration.
But, yeah, what if he made his return to a non-Tour event? Like say in early June in London.
Is Mickelson really going to return at a LIV event instead of defending his title at the PGA?
Phil returning to golf (and the media) in the friendly confines of the first LIV event instead of the circus that would be the PGA presser does make sense. But holy s**t is that sad.
That was a tweet from the No Laying Up site on Friday. It sums it up well.
You’d have to believe that the media presence would be lesser at the first LIV Invitational Series event, set for June 9-11 at the Centurion Club in London — it’s an overseas trip for the American contingent, and the TV presence apparently will be an in-house, YouTube production. Reporters will be there; just not as many as there will be at the PGA, or at the U.S. Open, which will be held in Boston. The questions will be asked, and you’d have to imagine the thought would be they’ll be asked less frequently down the road.
And the field, while not announced yet, will have lesser star power than a Tour field. Mickelson should be competitive.
Will Mickelson ever play the PGA Tour again?
I can’t believe that this is now a serious question but…. going forward, will we ever see Phil play a non-LIV event?
That was another tweet from No Laying Up, and it’s another good question. Forget for a moment that LIV events could be attractive because its fields aren’t so. Remember that Mickelson turns 52 in a month. While other stars have chosen to stick with the Tour to build their legacies, Mickelson’s is pretty much set.
Then again, Monahan told the Associated Press recently that players who jump ship in favor of the Saudi tour would lose their Tour membership. The choice may not be Mickelson’s. Though it’s here where the lawyers enter the conversation.
Will Mickelson make an announcement?
If he plays again, expect a press conference ahead of time.
As for one of his other former favorite forms of communication, Mickelson’s thumbs appear to be getting itchy.
Earlier this week, Lefty did, albeit briefly, return to Twitter, when he liked two tweets, then unliked them. What Mickelson was interacting with may also give you a hint at where his feelings lie. Mickelson liked a comment that said, “Yet @PhilMickelson gets canceled…WTF,” which was in response to a tweet from media personality Clay Travis, who wrote, “The NBA, which pulled its All Star Game out of Charlotte over a transgender bathroom bill, is playing games next year in the United Arab Emirates where homosexuality is punishable by death.” He also liked a tweet that read, “PGA Tour block rebels including Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood from Saudi breakaway series #YahooSports #GOLF #P…,” from an account entitled “offthebooks.crypto,” which appears to be a news aggregator.
Is there a chance Mickelson never plays professional golf again?
Like we said above, you need to consider that he’s going to be 52, and both his resume in the game is secure, and his skills are deteriorating. Regardless of anything that’s happened, retirement was already on the table.
But then again, as we also talked about above, do you really believe Phil the Alpha will just ride horses on a ranch somewhere in Montana?
On a conference call with reporters ahead of the PGA Championship, according to Golfweek, CBS announcer Jim Nantz revealed that he had been in touch with Mickelson recently and said he would return at some point.
“Sometimes we get caught up in the cyclone of the story, and we think it’s forever,” Nantz said. “It won’t be forever. He’ll be back, he’ll play, he’s got a ton of fans out there. This is a forgiving nation and there’s a million examples of people finding their way back to being on top again, and I fully expect he will one day.”
Is this all just a big PIP play?
Is the conversation of Mickelson not playing in the PGA, or anywhere, getting exhausting?
If you believe so, I thank you for still sticking around.
The golf this week, on a fantastic course, should be memorable. Phil or no Phil. Enjoy it.