Say you want about Phil Mickelson – whether you love him or not, whether you’re heartened or disgusted by his presence in the renegade LIV Golf circuit – but you’ve got to admit he was willing to take the heat.
Mickelson’s was the first news conference of U.S. Open week on Monday, leading up to this week’s major at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and maybe that was by design. The week after he helped launch the Saudi-backed circuit, in effect thumbing his nose at the PGA Tour that had been his home for his professional career, he and the USGA probably considered it best to get the uncomfortable questions and answers out of the way.
Nobody as far as we know was barred from the news conference, certainly not in the way that Mickelson biographer Alan Shipnuck was removed from a LIV Golf presser last week in London as the rival circuit’s boss, Greg Norman, looked on. That quickly became a meme among golf fans.
— Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) June 9, 2022
— Shaun Kloetzer (@SKloetzer15) June 12, 2022
The USGA likely wanted to get past this quickly so that by Thursday the emphasis is on golf, not ethical dilemmas. There are several other LIV Golf players in the Open field this week, but only Mickelson was scheduled for a pre-tournament presser.
And so Lefty stood at the microphone in the USGA’s media center Monday for a shade over 25 minutes, for both on-site questioners and those in the online media portal. He fielded a few softball queries up front, but when the aggressive queries began he had a deer-in-the-headlights look. This was not a smooth landing, at all.
Among the questions:
Q: “How do you explain (to the survivors of the 9/11 attacks, many of the perpetrators of which were Saudis) what you’ve decided to do?”
A: “I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends on 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them. I can’t emphasize that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them.”
Q: “How did you feel about the PGA of America’s decision to move the PGA Championship away from the Trump course in Bedminster to Tulsa in the wake of the January 6th riots and then how do you feel about these two LIV events being played on Trump courses?”
A: “…I don’t get involved in that matter. That’s for the PGA of America. I haven’t been involved in LIV Golf and their decision on where to hold their events, but those discussions should be held privately behind closed doors.”
Q: “If a segment of your fan base decided to walk away from you and not support you anymore, would you respect and understand that decision, and if so, why, and if not, why not?”
A: “I respect and I understand their opinions, and I understand that they have strong feelings and strong emotions regarding this choice, and I certainly respect them … respect that.”
Q. “I appreciate it’s still early in the week, but what sort of welcome back have you had or what sort of welcome back are you anticipating you’ll have from your peers who will feel betrayed by you and have lost an awful lot of respect for you?”
A: “I have the utmost respect for the players on the PGA Tour. There have been a lot of friendships that have gone on for decades with Amy (his wife) and myself. There have been a lot of memories that we’ve shared, experiences that we’ve shared, and many of the players on the PGA Tour are people that I look up to and respect the most. I think that I respect if they disagree, but at this time this is the right decision.”
Q: “If it’s your preference, would you like to (play both tours)? Obviously, the suspension notwithstanding at the moment, is that your preference going forward if that comes to pass?”
A: “My preference is to be able to choose which path I would like, one or the other or both. I feel that … I gave as much back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf that I could throughout my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I’ve earned a lifetime membership. I intend to keep that and then choose going forward which events to play and not.”
Q. “Phil, I’m curious about your reaction to the comments that the PGA Commissioner (Jay Monahan) made over the weekend that no one has ever had to apologize for being on the PGA Tour. Do you feel you need to apologize for being on the LIV Tour?”
A: “There’s a lot of things throughout the years that the PGA Tour has done that I agree with, and there’s a lot of things that I don’t agree with, and yet I’ve supported them either way. That’s the way I feel going forward for other governing bodies as well, and I’m going to try to keep any issues that I have, again, going forward, behind closed doors because it was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made, voicing all of these little things.”
Later, Mickelson added: “I’ve worked hard to earn a lifetime membership. I’ve worked hard to give back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf throughout my 30-plus years of professional golf, and I’ve earned that lifetime membership, so I believe that it should be my choice.”
Mickelson also said he planned on playing in the British Open, the year’s last major, next month at St. Andrews. He and the other LIV players at Brookline – including Dustin Johnson, Talor Gooch, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, U.S. Amateur champion James Piot and recent signups Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Jason Kokrak – are there because the USGA determined it wouldn’t be fair to bar players who had originally qualified. It did not commit to anything in future years.
In the end, these will be the issues that determine whether LIV, with its “everybody gets paid” ethic and its seemingly endless supply of Saudi cash, will pick up more defectors and become a serious threat to the PGA Tour: Will the majors continue to allow the LIV players entry if they qualify? And will the folks who determine Official World Golf Rankings points recognize LIV Tour events?
It’s early, and the answers are far down the road. Mickelson’s session Monday was only the start of a milestone week in this war between the tours, the first tournament mingling of those who stayed and those who jumped.
You think there might be some really awkward silences in the clubhouse and on the course this week?