Phil Mickelson withdrew from the PGA Championship on Friday, choosing to extend his hiatus from golf following inflammatory comments he made about a rival Saudi-funded league he supports and the PGA Tour he accused of greed.
Mickelson scored one of the most impressive victories last year when he won the PGA at Kiawah Island, at age 50 becoming the oldest major league champion in 161 years.
Now, the popular phrase from a decade ago: “What will Phil do now?” — carries more intrigue than sheer excitement.
The PGA of America Announced your decision on social networks. The PGA Championship begins Thursday at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Mickelson has not played since Feb. 6 at the Saudi International, where he accused the PGA Tour of “hateful greed” in an interview with Golf Digest.
Two weeks later, in an excerpt from Alan Shipnuck’s unauthorized biography to be published next week, Mickelson revealed how he had been working behind the scenes to promote the rival league financed by the Public Investment Fund and run by Greg Norman.
Mickelson dismissed Saudi Arabia’s human rights atrocities, including the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it was worth it if it meant gaining influence to get the changes he wanted to the PGA Tour.
Mickelson met the deadline to sign up for the PGA Championship on April 25, though his manager said it was more about keeping his options open. He, too, entered the US Open and said he would ask for a conflicting event release to play the LIV Golf Invitational in London, the first of Norman’s $20 million tournaments.
The tour said earlier this week that it would not award any releases.
Mickelson is the first major champion not to defend his title since Rory McIlroy at St. Andrews in 2015 due to a knee injury from playing football.
He is only the third PGA champion not to defend his title in the last 75 years. Tiger Woods missed out in 2008 while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, and Ben Hogan was unable to play in 1949 as he recovered from his car being hit by a bus.
Mickelson’s problems were self-inflicted.
“Personally, I think it’s an incredible mental challenge to come back and play after what he’s been put through,” six-time Grand Slam champion and CBS analyst Nick Faldo said Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s as easy as getting back on the bike and getting to a golf tournament and playing. The attention is going to be monumental.”
Attention now turns to whether Mickelson will challenge the tour by playing in London in three weeks, or go to the US Open, the only major he has never won.
The last time he played in the United States was at Torrey Pines on January 28. He missed the cut.
Shipnuck’s book is scheduled to be released on Tuesday. Excerpts he has already posted on his “Firepit Collective” site include Mickelson saying he recruited players to pay for lawyers to draft the operating agreement for a new league.
“We know that Khashoggi was killed and they have a horrible human rights record. There they execute people for being gay. Knowing all this, why would he even consider it? Because this is a unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour operates,” Mickelson said.
He referred to the PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan as a “dictatorship.”
“I’m not even sure I want it to succeed,” he said of the Saudi league. “But just the idea allows us to do things with the tour.”
Mickelson quickly lost corporate sponsors such as KPMG and Amstel Light, while Workday said it would not renew its contract with him. Mickelson released a statement in which he described his comment as “reckless” and apologized for his choice of words.
Mickelson said in his statement that he has felt pressure and stress affecting him at a deeper level for the last 10 years and that he needs some time off.
But he did not say whether he would take a break from golf. He has not played since the Saudi International on February 6. He doesn’t play this week. His statement in February concluded: “I know I haven’t been at my best and I desperately need some time off to prioritize the ones I love most and work to be the man I want to be.”
Mickelson was replaced on the field by former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
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