Phil Mickelson’s exile, not only from professional golf but also from public life, will continue until the PGA Championship next week. It’s not just a disgrace to the sport, but a stain on the second major championship of the year.
Mickelson, 51, will not defend his historic 2021 PGA Championship title next week at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. A year ago, Mickelson became the oldest great champion in sports history when he won the PGA at age 50 with a virtuoso performance at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island in South Carolina.
Next week, he will be conspicuous by his absence.
“We have just been informed that Phil Mickelson has retired from the PGA Championship,” read a statement released by the PGA of American on Friday afternoon. “Phil is the defending champion and currently eligible for PGA Life Membership and we would have welcomed him. We wish Phil and [wife] Amy the best and looking forward to her return to golf.
Mickelson hasn’t played competitively in over three months. He has retired from public life since explosive and controversial comments he made about the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed league led by Greg Norman were published – which Mickelson said were part from a private conversation with a golf writer.
Nonetheless, the backlash was whiplash-like, leaving Mickelson reeling from the sight of the audience. Mickelson skipped the Masters last month at Augusta National, the first time he had not played there since 1994. He has won the tournament, which he calls his favorite, three times, and he still believes that he can win.
Now, he will miss defending his 2021 PGA Championship, which might have been the most remarkable of his six major wins, given his age.
To be clear: Mickelson made serious mistakes. Even by his own admission, calling out the PGA Tour for “abhorrent greed” in an interview with Golf Digest’s John Huggan wasn’t a good look.
What followed, calling the Saudis “scary motherfuckers” for the human rights atrocities taking place there and admitting he was using the LIV Golf Invitational series the nation supports as leverage against the PGA Tour, was a mistake given that he made an assumption that he was speaking with the reporter off the record without declaring the conversation confidential before speaking.
But when is enough, enough?
Mickelson didn’t break any laws. Other players have made more egregious mistakes in the court of public opinion. Think of Tiger Woods on more than one occasion (destroying his family with rampant infidelity and multiple dangerous motor vehicle incidents). And yet, Woods remains a deified figure in the sport.
“[Mickelson] will be back,’ Jim Nantz, CBS’ chief golf broadcaster, said this week. “Sometimes we get caught up in the cyclone of history, and we think it’s forever. It won’t be forever. He’ll be back, he’ll be playing, he’s got a ton of fans there. C It’s a forgiving nation, and there are a million examples of people finding their way back to the top, and I expect it to one day.’
PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, in a recent interview with the 5 Clubs podcast, made a comment suggesting Mickelson was serving a suspension from the PGA Tour. Waugh spoke about the fact that Mickelson held a press conference before doing it again.
“The idea is that if he plays, and if he’s able and allowed to… he’ll definitely have to face the media,” Waugh said of the prospect of seeing Mickelson play next week.
That “if he’s allowed to” comment raised the question of whether Waugh knows something the rest of us don’t. The PGA of America and the PGA Tour are separate governing bodies, but Waugh and PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan are close and very aligned on policy.
Waugh also revealed that he had “a number of” conversations with Mickelson.
“I think he’s trying to figure out when the right time is for him,” Waugh said. “I think the game is trying to find the right time for him too. How much time is enough?”
Now that’s “enough”.
The news of Mickelson’s withdrawal was bad for the 104th PGA Championship and, more importantly, bad for golf.