For the second time in two months, a major championship in men’s golf is being overshadowed by who won’t play in the event.
A large part of the story at the Masters in April was Phil Mickelson didn’t play in the PGA Tour’s first major of the year. Mickelson was still in the middle of time away from the game amid the backlash of his comments about the Saudi Arabian-based LIV tour and his support for that tour despite the backers being “scary” and murdering journalists, in Mickelson’s own words.
It wasn’t a comfortable look for the Masters, who even had to deflect the idea that they had asked Mickelson not to show up at Augusta National.
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Now it is the PGA Championship’s turn. Mickelson isn’t just a big name at the PGA, he is the defending champion. His win at Kiawah Island last May, one month short of his 51st birthday, was the feel-good victory of the year that should have sent Lefty into the sunset of his career and into the broadcast booth of whichever network offered the most money. Instead, Mickelson won’t play in the championship this week.
Maybe Mickelson isn’t ready to face his fellow players and the media over his support for the LIV. Maybe reprehensible comments from Greg Norman, the other face of the LIV, about the murder of a journalist being “a mistake” made Mickelson realize the time wasn’t right to resurface. Maybe he doesn’t want to be at the championship the week a tell-all-style book about his career is scheduled to come out. Maybe the rumors on social media are right, and Mickelson’s game just isn’t ready to be put on display at a major championship.
Whatever the reason, Mickelson will not defend his title at the PGA. That’s happened before, with Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan failing to defend, both because of injuries. Even Walter Hagen didn’t defend his 1921 PGA title because he could make more money playing exhibitions than in the PGA.
But Mickelson’s decision is sad for golf fans because he is one of the best to ever play the game – tied with Hagen for eighth all time with 45 PGA Tour wins and six majors – and also because he has limited time left to play regular tour events because he’s just one month short of his 52nd birthday.
From folk hero to absent defender
If Mickelson didn’t want to play in the PGA because he didn’t want to face the media and his fellow players, then it is a stunning fall from grace from the sensational and sentimental victory of 2021. And it robs the PGA of America of what could have been one of the great celebrations of its championship with a look back at Mickelson’s victory last year.
With Mickelson out of the PGA, there are more questions. When he first entered the PGA this year, his representative said he also was entering the LIV event in London and the U.S. Open the following week in June, but that no decision had been made on where Mickelson would actually play. The London event would only heighten the LIV controversy. The U.S. Open would likely be a more raucous crowd, but might also be a step toward reconciliation.
And you can expect more discussion about the LIV during the PGA, including other players like Sergio Garcia being asked about their support of the LIV and the PGA Tour’s refusal to grant waivers to play in the tournament opposite the RBC Canadian Open.
Oh yeah, and Woods is back playing for a second major in two months. It could be quite a week at Southern Hills in Oklahoma. The only thing we know for sure is that Phil Mickelson won’t win this major for the second year in a row.