Surely he would now turn up for the 104th PGA Championship in those same Southern Hills for a mass feast with a fine 6 for 115 in majors, a curtain call to his historic bow at Kiawah Island in South Carolina last year where dizzying swarms of beer were Venen followed the oldest-ever Major winner at No. 18 alongside Atlantic.
While other defending champions have missed the defending portion through injury – Rory McIlroy at the 2015 British Open and Tiger Woods at the 2008 PGA, to name just two – Mickelson is the first to miss it for making some vile comments about murder and execution released three months earlier. It’s another low point in his newfound role as the unworthy recluse who missed out on both the Masters and the PGA in avoiding firestorms.
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Since wrinkles occur in an eccentric sport, it’s an outlier.
“This was supposed to be a celebration, wasn’t it?” McIlroy said of Mickelson on Tuesday. “He won a major championship at 50. It was possibly his last great moment in golf. He should – I think he should be here this week celebrating what a monumental achievement he achieved last year. It’s unfortunate. It is sad. Yes, I don’t know what else to say.”
Here, his screaming absence acts as “the elephant in the room,” as PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh put it. Here other people talk about him while he doesn’t talk about himself. Young arrival Viktor Hovland called it “a bizarre situation, that’s for sure”. Longtime Major pursuer Rickie Fowler called Mickelson’s self-inflicted plight “a tough road these past few months, a difficult situation,” saying, “It’s unfortunate that he didn’t feel like this was the place where he was right.” should now is here.” Top golfers like Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas softly said they really had nothing to say.
Brooks Koepka – who finished second last year by two shots behind Mickelson and won this event in 2018 and 2019 among four major titles – followed his usual steadfast path.
“Not here,” Koepka said of Mickelson. “I can’t really say more.”
A few questions later, he added something else, which was that he expected more of himself than just finishing second. “Last year I felt like it [I] given away,” he says. “I didn’t put any pressure on him. I missed a two foot putt on hole 4 or 3 or something and didn’t put any pressure the whole way. Just did nothing and just gave it to him.”
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Nevertheless, Mickelson is allowed to keep the title in 2021.
“You see,” said Waugh, whose organization runs the PGA Championship, “no one was more excited than us when Phil celebrated his epic win last year, right? It is wonderful. He did something no one has done before and won a major at 50. It was one of the great moments in golf and we will never forget it. We were definitely looking forward to him defending. He is not here. …
“It is his decision. He and I had some conversations before, during and after and I can honestly say his camp called on Friday and said he wasn’t ready to play. Of course we respect that. We get it.”
In scathing comments he made to Golf Digest in Saudi Arabia in early February, Mickelson cited the PGA Tour’s “insufferable greed” and hailed the potential rival Saudi Tour as a mechanism to get more PGA Tour funds to players to distribute. He emphasized the media rights, including the fact that the tour “can be used by companies for a fee [clips of] Shots I took.” Speaking of the PGA Tour, he said, “It’s the sickening greed of the Tour that has really opened the door to opportunities elsewhere.”
In self-damning comments to writer Alan Shipnuck, which he made last November but published later that month, Mickelson said of Saudi Arabia: “They’re scary to get involved with. We know they killed [Jamal] Khashoggi” — the Saudi-based American and Washington Post columnist — “and has a terrible human rights record. They execute people there because they are gay. Knowing all this, why should I even consider it? Because this is a unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour works. They’ve been able to get away with manipulative, coercive, forceful tactics because we, the players, had no way. Such a nice guy like [PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as not doing the right thing unless you have leverage. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure if I want to [the Saudi venture] to be successful, but just imagining it allows us to get things done with the [PGA] Trip.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Tiger Woods said: “Well it’s always disappointing when the defending champions aren’t here. Phil said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the tour and the legacy of the tour have resisted and he’s taken some of his time and we all understand that.
“But I think some of his views on how the tour could be done should be done…there was a lot of disagreement there. But as we all know, we miss him as a pro out here. I mean he’s a big draw for the game of golf. He’s just taking his time and we all wish him the best when he comes back. Of course we’re going to have disagreements about how he views the tour and we’re going to go from there.
Woods was referring to the late 1960s when Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer spearheaded a split from the PGA of America to start a Players Tour. “I understand different points of view,” Woods said, “but I believe in legacies. I believe in big championships. I believe in great events, comparisons with historical figures of the past. There’s a lot of money out here. The tour is growing. But it’s like any other sport. . . . You have to go out and earn it.”
When asked if he had contacted Mickelson, Woods said, “I haven’t reached out to him. I haven’t spoken to him. A lot of it has to do with personal issues, I think. It was our views on how the Tour should and could be done and what the players are playing for and how we are playing for it. I have a very different attitude and therefore, no, I don’t.”
The strangeness and another main game continue to play.