TULSA, Okla. — Somehow, one of the biggest stories of the 2022 PGA Championship centers around somebody who’s not even playing this week. Defending champion Phil Mickelson has been the most-discussed player in the field, and he’s (presumably) thousands of miles away from Southern Hills Country Club and not slated to show at the last minute, like he did at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion.
He’s the most-discussed golfer at this PGA Championship for a couple of reasons, and they are related. The first is that he won last year at Kiawah to become the oldest major champion ever at age 50, and now he’s become the first to — barring injury — not defend a major championship title since Ben Hogan nearly 70 years ago.
Mickelson flamed himself in February when he talked disparagingly about both the PGA Tour and the rival tour he allegedly helped start, LIV Golf. He seemingly tried to play both sides against each other, and when that was disclosed, he lost big — credibility, respect, goodwill and, maybe most importantly, sponsors. Mickelson has not played professional golf in over three months since his comments came out.
His primary contemporary — the man who actually showed up this week — was asked for his thoughts on Mickelson missing out on the second major championship of the year (his second in a row) and his first missed PGA since 1992.
“It’s always disappointing when the defending champion is not here,” said Tiger Woods. “Phil has said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the Tour and committed to the legacy of the Tour have pushed back against, and he’s taken some personal time, and we all understand that.
“But I think that some of his views on how the Tour could be run, should be run … been a lot of disagreement there. But as we all know, as a professional, we miss him being 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. Obviously we’re going to have difference of opinions, how he sees the Tour, and we’ll go from there”
There has been a strange pall over Mickelson’s name this week with many inside the game postulating that he might not show up until the first LIV Golf Invitational event in London from June 9-11, or even that he might be contractually required to sit out until then. There has even been speculation that Mickelson might never play a major championship or PGA Tour event again.
This is obviously premature conjecture, but it also conveys both how serious Mickelson’s situation is and how little anyone truly knows. What seems to be clear is that this is a bigger deal than Mickelson simply just not wanting to face questions from a host of media members. There’s something bigger at play, whether it’s a holdout until the LIV Golf series starts, a game that’s nowhere near the level it needs to be at for major championship contention or something even more obscure. The choice to sit this week out was purely his own.
“Look, no one was more excited than us last year when Phil had his epic win, right? It’s amazing,” said PGA CEO Seth Waugh. “He’s done something nobody else has ever done and win a major at 50. It was one of the great moments in golf, and we’ll never sort of forget it. We certainly looked forward to him defending.
“He’s not here. It’s at his choice. He and I have had some conversations before, during, and after, and I can really say that on Friday his camp called and said he’s not ready to play. Obviously we respect that. We understand it.”
The PGA’s understanding doesn’t make it any less lamentable. The championship will rock later in the week once the golf starts, but for now, so many of the questions for players and so much of the talk in general has revolved around what’s not going to happen rather than what is. Rory McIlroy summed it up well, as he often does, when he was asked about the man he defeated at the 2014 PGA at Valhalla.
“This should be a celebration, right? He won a major championship at 50 years old,” said McIlroy. “It was possibly his last big, big moment in the game of golf. I think he should be here this week and celebrating what a monumental achievement he achieved last year.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s sad.”