Phil Mickelson’s absence from PGA major stain on golf

Phil Mickelson’s exile, not only from professional golf, but also from public life, will continue through the PGA Championship next week. That’s not only a shame for the sport, but a stain on the second major championship of the year.

The 51-year-old Mickelson won’t defend his historic 2021 PGA Championship title next week at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. A year ago, Mickelson became the oldest major champion in the history of the sport when he captured the PGA at age 50 with a virtuoso performance on Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in South Carolina.

Next week, he’ll be conspicuous by his absence.

“We have just been informed that Phil Mickelson has withdrawn from the PGA Championship,” read a statement released by the PGA of American on Friday afternoon. “Phil is the defending champion and currently eligible to be a PGA Life Member and we would have welcomed him to participate. We wish Phil and [wife] Amy the very best and look forward to his return to golf.”

Mickelson hasn’t played competitively in more than three months. He has withdrawn from public life since explosive and controversial comments he made about the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed league fronted by Greg Norman were published — and which Mickelson claimed were part of a private conversation with a golf writer.

Nevertheless, the backlash has been whiplash-like, leaving Mickelson reeling away from public view. Mickelson skipped the Masters last month at Augusta National, the first time he hadn’t played there since 1994. He has won that tournament, which he calls his favorite, three times, and he still believes he can win there.

Now, he’ll miss defending his 2021 PGA Championship, which might have been the most remarkable of his six major victories, considering his age.

The last time Phil Mickelson played was at the Saudi International.
The last time Phil Mickelson played was at the Saudi International.
Getty Images

To be clear: Mickelson made some serious mistakes. Even by his own admission, calling out the PGA Tour for “obnoxious greed’’ in an interview with Golf Digest’s John Huggan was not a good look.

What followed, calling out the Saudis as “scary motherf–kers’’ for the human rights atrocities that take place there and admitting he was using the LIV Golf Invitational Series that nation backs as leverage against the PGA Tour, was a mistake considering he made an assumption he was speaking off the record with the reporter without stating the conversation as off the record before speaking.

But when is enough, enough?

Mickelson broke no laws. Other players have made more egregious errors in the court of public opinion. Think Tiger Woods on more than one occasion (wrecking his family with rampant infidelity and multiple dangerous motor vehicle incidents). And yet Woods remains a deified figure in the sport.

“[Mickelson] will be back,’’ Jim Nantz, CBS’s lead golf broadcaster, said this week. “Sometimes, we get caught up in the cyclone of the story, and we think it’s forever. It won’t be forever. He’ll be back, he’ll play, he’s got a ton of fans out there. This is a forgiving nation, and there’s a million examples of people finding their way back to being on top again, and I fully expect he will one day.’’

PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, in a recent interview with the 5 Clubs podcast, made a comment that suggested Mickelson has been serving a PGA Tour suspension. Waugh spoke about Mickelson getting a press conference out of the way before teeing it up again.

“The idea is if he does play, and if he’s able to and allowed to … he would certainly have to face the media,’’ Waugh said of the prospect of Mickelson playing next week.

That “if he’s allowed to’’ comment raised questions of whether Waugh knows something the rest of us don’t. The PGA of America and the PGA Tour are separate governing bodies, but Waugh and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan are close and very much align with each other on policies.

Waugh also revealed that he has had “a number of’’ conversations with Mickelson.

“I think he’s trying to figure out when the right time is for him,” Waugh said. “I think the game is trying to figure out the right time for him, too. How long is enough?’’

Now is “enough.’’

News of Mickelson’s withdrawal was bad for the 104th PGA Championship and, more importantly, bad for golf.