Fifty-year-old men don’t win major championships, they reminisce about them. If they find a way into the field due to past glory, they relish the memories and enjoy the walk. Hoist the trophy? They are more apt to be dusting the one sitting on the mantel.
It wasn’t that long ago that Phil Mickelson was drinking from the Wanamaker Trophy and sharing his joy with the rest of the world via social media.
He had every right to relish one of golf’s grand accomplishments, a victory at the PGA Championship that made him the oldest player, at 50, to ever win a major championship — breaking a record held by Julius Boros for 53 years.
If Mickelson never did another thing in the game, what a crowning achievement. What a sendoff. What a way to top off a career.
Mickelson is not playing in the Masters, and it’s simply shocking.
From the ultimate glory to the ultimate indignity in a matter of months, if not weeks.
One of the game’s greatest champions, one who was to play in his 30th Masters and a three-time winner of the event, is out of the year’s first major championship due to the fallout over his comments about the PGA Tour, the LIV Golf Invitational Series and its involvement with the Saudi Arabian government.
Fellow players have criticized him. Companies he endorsed have dropped him. His long-time club sponsor, Callaway, had put their relationship “on pause." And now Mickelson, who has not played in a tournament in nearly two months, is extending his leave, with all manner of conjecture but no official reason.
Personal problems? Money issues? PGA Tour suspension? Augusta National telling him to stay home? All of it’s out there, none of it corroborated. We are only left to guess.
Is there not a way back for Mickelson? Earlier this month at the Players Championship, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suggested there is, that it’s up to Mickelson to make a call and that he would answer. But getting to that point is seemingly harder than envisioned.
“He’s been loved for so long," said PGA Tour veteran Webb Simpson. “People will forgive. Looks at sports stars or celebrities in this world. If they come back and say they were wrong, people seem to get over it. I sure hope so. He’s meant a lot to me. Mentored me a little bit so I’d like to see him come back."
Rory McIlroy, who was highly critical of Mickelson last month at the Genesis Invitational when he said Mickelson’s comments were “were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant" — also cracked open the door for forgiveness three weeks ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“It is unfortunate," McIlroy said. “I think Phil has been a wonderful ambassador for the game of golf, still is a wonderful ambassador for the game of golf. It’s unfortunate that a few comments that he thought he was making in confidence or off the record got out there and ... were used against him, but this whole situation is unfortunate."
“Look, Phil will be back," McIlroy added. “I think the players want to see him back. He’s done a wonderful job for the game of golf, and he’s represented the game of golf very, very well for the entirety of his career. We all make mistakes. We all say things we want to take back. No one is different in that.
“But we should be allowed to make mistakes, and we should be allowed to ask for forgiveness and for people to forgive us and move on. Hopefully, he comes back at some stage and he will, and people will welcome him back and be glad that he is back."
So far, that is not happening. It’s been a month since his apology and his last tournament at the at the Saudi International was seven weeks ago. It might not have been a surprise when he skipped tournaments such as the WM Phoenix Open or Genesis Invitational or Honda Classic.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational wasn’t considered a big omission for him, either. But no Players Championship? He had not missed that tournament since 2003, when his wife was pregnant. The Valspar Championship? He played it last year and was said to be considering a return. The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship? It’s only two weeks prior to the Masters, and Mickelson needs the competition.
That was probably the biggest clue, that Mickelson was not in the field this week. When his name was removed from the Masters tournament website’s list of competitors Monday, it only confirmed what many believed to be inevitable, adding more intrigue to a remarkable situation.
We are barely 10 months removed from the triumphant scene at Kiawah Island, where Mickelson was engulfed by the masses while attempting to play the 18th hole on the final day of the PGA Championship. Mickelson hit the perfect shot out of the rough to find the green and clinch the victory, the delirious spectators chanting his name and celebrating right along with him. It was such a cool sight, a unique ending.
“It’s a moment I’ll always cherish,’’ he said.
Now Mickelson is in exile, that great victory somehow enveloped like the crowd that followed him on the final hole.
The tranquility of Augusta National seemed a natural place to begin the healing, but the pain will only linger with another question looming: could Mickelson skip the defense of his PGA Championship title at Southern Hills?
It seems unthinkable, but so did missing the Masters.