Phil Mickelson on Friday withdrew from the PGA Championship, opting to extend his term off golf after his incendiary comments he made about the rival Saudi-funded league he supports and the PGA Tour accusing him of being greedy.
Mickelson authored one of his most stunning victories last year when he won the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island, when at the age of 50 he became the oldest champion in 161 years of major tournaments.
Now, the popular phrase from a decade ago – “What’s an elephant going to do next?” It carries more intrigue than just excitement.
The US PGA announced its decision on social media. The PGA Championship begins Thursday at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Mickelson has not played since February 6 at the Saudi International, accusing the PGA Tour of “hateful greed” in an interview with Golf Digest.
Two weeks later, in an excerpt from Alan Shipnuck’s unauthorized biography due out next week, Mickelson revealed how he had been working behind the scenes to promote the rival league funded 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, by saying it’s worth it if it means gaining leverage to get the changes he wants on the PGA Tour.
Mickelson met the April 25 PGA Championship registration deadline, though his manager said it was more about keeping his options open. He also competed in the US Open and said he would order a clash event to play the LIV Golf Invitational in London, Norman’s first $20 million tournament.
The tour said earlier this week that it would not grant any release.
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 in 2008 while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, and Ben Hogan was unable to play in 1949 while recovering from his car that crashed into a bus.
Mickelson’s issues were self-made.
“Personally I think it’s an incredible mental challenge to come back and play after what he put himself in,” six-time champion and analyst Nick Faldo on CBS said on Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s as easy as just getting back on the bike and going to a golf tournament and playing. The interest would be massive.”
Now attention is turning to whether Mickelson will challenge the Tour by playing in London in three weeks’ time, or if he will go to the US Open, the only major he has never won.
The last time he played in America was at Torrey Pines on January 28. He missed the cut.
Shipnuck’s book is scheduled to be released on Tuesday. Among the excerpts he has already posted on his “Firepit Collective” site, Mickelson included saying that he’s recruited players to pay lawyers to write the operating agreement for a new league.
“We know they killed Khashoggi and they have a horrific human rights record. They execute people there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why am I even thinking about it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape. How does the PGA Tour work,” Mickelson said.
He referred to the PGA Tour and Commissioner Jay Monahan as a “dictator”.
He said of the Saudi League: “I’m not sure I want the event to succeed. But just the idea that it allows us to get things done on the tour.”
Mickelson quickly lost sponsors such as KPMG and Amstel Light, while Workday said it would not renew its deal with him. Mickelson released a statement calling his comment “reckless” and apologizing for his choice of words.
In his statement, Mickelson said he has felt the pressure and stress that has affected him on a deeper level over the past 10 years and needs time away.
But he did not say if he would take a break from golf. He has not played since the Saudi International on February 6th. He is not playing this week. “I know I haven’t been my best and I desperately need some time to prioritize the ones I love the most and work towards being the man I want to be,” he concluded.
“I know I haven’t been my best and I desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love the most and work towards being the man I want to be,” he said in February.
Mickelson was replaced on the field by former Masters champion Charles Schwarzl.