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Phil Mickelson spoke about LIV Golf

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Phil Mickelson stepped up to the microphone at the US Open for the first press conference of the rest of his life looking like a pale shadow of his former self. His eyes were wider, his cheeks dotted with fragments of gray beard. Where he had once argued with the media as if he were seeking an award on a debate team, he was now dodging pointed questions with dodges, evasions, and brief nonanswers. He wasn’t nervous, Phil Mickelson isn’t nervous, but he clearly wasn’t enjoying this particular inquisition.

Mickelson is a week away from his re-entry into public life, more than three months after the publication of the comments that sent him into exile from golf. Less than 48 hours before the press conference, he collected a $150,000 check for three days of work at LIV Golf’s inaugural tournament, the first stop on a new tour that promised him $200 million in participation fees. For that, he ended a 30-year relationship with the PGA Tour and watched sponsors flee.

“It’s good to be back,” he said in an opening statement. “Four months have passed. It’s been a necessary time and opportunity to step back a little bit and put some thought and reflection into moving forward and how to best prioritize things.”

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Mickelson returns to the United States a marked man. His decision to join LIV is an indelible part of his story now, as much as his fearlessness on the field and his 3-inch vertical. He chose money over legacy, and he’s about to find out exactly what that means to his fans.

“As for whether or not the fans would walk away,” Mickelson said, “I respect and understand their opinions, and I understand that they have strong feelings and emotions regarding this election, and I certainly respect them, I respect them. I respect that.”

“Respect”, that is, respecting the opinions of the fans, of the critical media, of fellow players, was the theme of the day for Mickelson. He never uttered any variant of “apologize,” “sorry” or “regret,” but “respect” appeared 16 different times in the 25-minute conference. Mickelson was, in effect, saying that everyone is entitled to their opinion of him…but he had already made up his mind for him.

He used a similar tactic, deploying the words “sympathy” and “empathy,” when answering questions about 9/11 families who criticized his decision to take money from a Saudi-backed company.

“I think I speak for almost all Americans in that we have the deepest sympathy and the deepest empathy for those who have lost loved ones, friends on 9/11,” he said. “It affected all of us, and those who have been directly affected… I cannot stress enough the empathy I have for them.” Not to say: any response to his withering disregard for his career path.

There was an air of regret hanging over the day, a sense that perhaps Mickelson had unleashed something he couldn’t control, with consequences he couldn’t foresee. After all, he didn’t relinquish his membership on the PGA Tour and seemed very proud to point out that he has achieved the Tour’s highest honor.

“I gave everything back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf during my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I have earned a lifetime membership,” he said. “I intend to keep that and then choose in the future which events to play and not play.”

Phil Mickelson ponders a question at a news conference Monday at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, ahead of the US Open golf tournament. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

That idea, that he will be in control, that he will be the one to choose where he plays next, regardless of commitments, rules, expectations or beliefs, defines Mickelson. He never wants to be told what to do, he doesn’t want to be told what he can’t do, so he can’t imagine a world where he somehow can’t talk his way back. good thanks everyone.

Mickelson paused several times before answering questions, probably a wise move considering how many people involved with LIV have had sloppy dating issues before. One pause was particularly interesting. When asked if he would be at peace with never competing on the PGA Tour again, he took the longest silence of the day, perhaps considering the implication of the question.

“I am, again, very grateful for the many memories, opportunities, experiences, friendships, relationships that the PGA Tour has provided,” he finally said, “and those are going to last, they will last a lifetime, but I am hopeful that I will have the opportunity to create more. It was a response with far more hope and optimism than current events warrant.

The galleries of The Country Club will be a fascinating subplot this week. Always vocal, never shy about sharing opinions, Boston crowds are likely to share his views on Phil’s life-changing at high volume. Will they support it? Will they rip it? Probably a lot of both. No one has had a moderate opinion of Phil Mickelson in 30 years.

One day soon, probably not at the US Open, but soon, Phil will get his groove back. He will be the cocky, know-it-all and more reckless that he has been for the last 30 years as a professional. That’s what he does, get into trouble that would break minor players and find his way back to the green again. The question now is, how many people will be waiting to cheer him on once he gets there?

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Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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