Phil Mickelson emerged from the darkness, at least briefly, in a Zapruder-like video that captured him at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club last week, just a few days after his agent, Steve Loy, issued a statement in which he said the six-time major winner had entered the PGA Championship and U.S. Open – while also requesting a release for the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event.
Was that a bushy beard Mickelson was sporting? Was he swinging with considerable speed and hitting “bombs’’ with his driver?
What will Phil do next?
At some point, he was going to have to emerge from the abyss he found himself in following his flirtations with LIV Golf, his comments about the PGA Tour, the loss of sponsorships and his subsequent apology.
A few observations:
> What Mickelson did last week was mostly procedural. In order to play the PGA Championship and U.S. Open, he had to enter and the deadlines for both events have now passed. Also, in order to get a release from the PGA Tour to play in the LIV Golf event outside of London in June, he needed to do so by last Monday.
“Phil currently has no concrete plans on when and where he will play,’’ Loy said. “Any actions taken are in no way a reflection of a final decision made, but rather to keep all options open.’’
> By requesting the release from the PGA Tour for the LIV event, Mickelson smartly avoided the news being leaked. He was required to do that no later than 45 days prior to the tournament. Approximately 30 days ahead of the event, the Tour must tell players whether the release has been granted.
By doing so, however, Mickelson clearly showed he is not of the mind to run back to the Tour and disavow any allegiance to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf and commissioner Greg Norman.
> The Telegraph reported last week that Mickelson has already received $30 million up front from LIV Golf and is required to play in all eight of the scheduled events in 2022, with the requirement to pay back portions for each event missed. While that is certainly possible, for now a LIV Golf spokesperson said that Mickelson has not entered any of the tournaments.
It is quite likely the PGA Tour will grant his release for the June 9 tournament, as it is likely to do with others who requested such a release and have met all the other requirements to receive one. This is routine for overseas tournaments. Where it will get interesting is the first domestic tournament scheduled for July 1-3 in Portland; the PGA Tour has in its history not granted releases for domestic tournaments. The event is being play opposite the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic.
> If Mickelson has been playing and practicing, it is certainly feasible for his game to be in reasonable shape for a title defense at Southern Hills starting on May 19. But is he going to show up there and not have done any kind of media interview prior?
While it is near impossible for Mickelson’s presence not to be a huge deal at the PGA, it seems prudent for him to get out in front of this aspect of his story, so as it doesn’t become the overriding issue the week of a major championship. Certainly having Tiger Woods at the PGA will help deflect some attention, but if Mickelson talks to the media on Monday or Tuesday of championship week, that will dominate, overshadowing any other player. (That’s basically how it was with Woods at the Masters, too.)
So does Mickelson enter next week’s AT&T Byron Nelson? Does he do a media session there?
Mickelson took a tiny step in his path to remerging last week. But there is still a good bit of ground to cover as we wait to see where he returns.
Tiger in Tulsa
It didn’t take long for Tiger Woods’ trip to Tulsa on Thursday and a practice round at Southern Hills Country Club to spread around the golf world. Trackers again plotted the course of his private jet. And given that Woods was expected in Las Vegas for the weekend for his Tiger Jam fundraiser, the idea of doing this on the front end or back end of the trip seemed logical if he was going to use an opportunity to prepare for the PGA Championship.
Then numerous photos and video surfaced, signaling that Tiger, indeed, was on site. He ended up playing a full 18 holes with his friend Rob McNamara, a vice president at TGR, Woods' company. Also playing was Chris Hubman, who is the CFO of the company.
Caddying for Woods was the director of golf at Southern Hills, Cary Cozby, who learned about week earlier that Woods would be visiting. The PGA Championship begins on May 19.
“Unless he has a setback of some kind, he’s playing,’’ Cozby told GolfOklahoma.org. “This trip was all business.’’
Using a pin placement sheet from last year’s Senior PGA Championship played at the same venue, Woods worked on putting to all four hole locations used for that tournament.
Cozby offered up a frank, upbeat assessment of Woods’ game.
“Everything is so smooth with him now,’’ Cozby said. “His rhythm is great, he hit it straight and plenty far, he pitched and putted it great. I know guys can hit it past him now but watching him work was amazing. He’s so meticulous, detailed and immersed in what he’s doing. He was very inquisitive on lines and the best angles.
“I think he can contend. He’s like Michael Jordan late in his career, playing defense and hitting jump shots. Whoever wins here is going to have to be a great chipper and he is still that.’’
And yet, that was a weakness for Woods at the Masters, where he finished 47th three weeks ago in his first official start in 17 months due to the major injuries suffered to his right leg, ankle and foot in a car crash. His full-time caddie, Joe LaCava, acknowledged that a few days later. Woods undoubtedly was not helped by the cold weekend weather, which tends to impact his back.
Cozby noted that Woods’ limping became more pronounced as the round neared its conclusion, and that was also an issue at Augusta National. But Woods said after the final round at the Masters he believes there is room for improvement, and that his right leg will get stronger over time.
“I could have gone another 18 easy,’’ Cozby told the website. “Obviously it was the best day of golf in my life when I didn’t hit a shot. Just because of how big of a fan I am and what he’s accomplished. To watch that for four hours was just incredible. I’m just in awe of his ability and how he handles every part of his game. To see it first hand was fantastic.’’
1. Jon Rahm’s victory at the Mexico Open was something of a relief to the reigning U.S. Open champion – who had not won since that victory last June. During that time, Rahm had nine top-10 finishes in 17 worldwide events, with five top-5 finishes. He was No. 1 in the world for nearly that entire period until dropping out of the top spot just prior to the Masters.
2. Rahm joined Cameron Smith at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Joaquin Niemann at the Genesis Invitational as the only players on the PGA Tour this season to hold at least a share of the lead after each round.
3. The crowds and subsequent buzz were lacking at the Mexico Open, a new event on the PGA Tour with the same sponsorship from the previous World Golf Championship event played in Mexico City. While that event drew nice crowds, this one in Puerto Vallarta has some work to do. Perhaps some of it has to do with ticket pricing, which was approximately $150 USD for the final round.
4. The LIV Golf Invitational Series announced its ticket plan for its tournaments, and while the organization touts growing the game through new formats and initiatives, its prices don’t support that idea. For the first tournament outside of London, single-day tickets are $120, with hospitality and various corporate packages going up from there. The first event in the U.S. in Portland has a list price of $70 per day.
LIV Golf and the World Rankings
One big issue to still be resolved for LIV Golf Investments and its foray into tournament golf is whether or not Official World Golf Ranking points will be awarded. While it might not be as big of an issue if players compete in one-off events this year as part of an eight-tournament schedule, you can bet it will matter in two years when LIV plans to start up its league.
The Asian Tour has sanctioned the LIV Golf events so that is an important part of the process. And there is no issue with 48-player fields, as tournaments such as the Tour Championship get full ranking points with just 30 players.
The problem could be in scheduled 54-hole events. While full ranking points are awarded for shortened events, tournaments that are scheduled that way are an interesting dilemma. The Sunshine Tour in South Africa has several tournaments that are listed as 54-holers, so there is precedent. There is also the possibility that fewer world ranking points could be awarded.
“We are working with our colleagues at the Asian Tour and OWGR and following appropriate protocols to ensure that our events obtain OWGR points,’’ LIV Golf said in a statement.
Tony Finau’s victory at the Northern Trust last August in a PGA Tour playoff event was a long time coming and seemingly was going to unleash the longtime talent, who was again part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
But until Finau’s final-round 63 on Sunday at the Mexico Open, there had been very little success. While Finau wasn’t awful, he wasn’t contending, either. He dropped from 15th in the world at the end of 2021 to 25th last week. And aside from the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December, he did not have a top-10 finish since his victory.
So a tie for second, one shot behind Jon Rahm, was a welcome result, even though Finau understandably rued not being one shot lower.
“I'm really happy with my round today, that's what I'll say,’’ said Finau, who moved to 18th in the world. “I haven't had a great season and just sometimes it's just how it goes. It's the game that we play. I really wanted to put together a nice week and I was able to do that this week and gave myself a chance to do something special right at the end.
“Making a 3 on 18 probably would have been a big deal, but making that putt for birdie, a lot of confidence builders on a day like today and I'll carry that with me the rest of the season.’’
PGA Championship Countdown
There are 17 days until the first round of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where typically one of the best fields of the year assembles.
Aside from the 20 PGA of America club professionals who qualified via the PGA Professional Championship, the tournament essentially takes all of the top 100 players in the world. It does not explicitly say so in its qualification criteria, but it often fills out its field by inviting those among the top 100 who have yet to qualify.
The tournament’s main qualification is the top 70 players from a running money list that began a week prior to last year’s PGA and will conclude after this week’s Wells Fargo Championship. Past major champions for five years as well as PGA champions for life are also invited.
The PGA of America last week released the field to date with 124 players qualified, including past champions Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both of whom have doubts surrounding their participation (although Woods’ visit to Southern Hills seems to suggest he will be there).
Southern Hills last held the championship in 2007 when Woods won his 13th major championship.
> The Tiger Watch was on again last week at Tiger Woods visited Tulsa for a practice round at the site of the PGA Championship.
> While at Southern Hills, Tiger Woods got some help from director of golf Cary Cozby.
> Of course, not everyone thought it was such a great thing that Tiger got so much intel.
> Bryson DeChambeau shows off the scar on his surgically repaired left hand and said his doctor has allowed him to begin chipping.
Rory McIlroy defends his Wells Fargo Championship title at a different venue, TPC Potomac outside of Washington, D.C. The event, which is annually played at Quail Hollow, has moved for this year due to the Presidents Cup being played in Charlotte.
That has resulted in a relatively weak field, as McIlroy is the only top-10 ranked player entered. He is playing for the first time since shooting a final-round 64 at the Masters.
This is typically a popular event, especially just two weeks prior to the next major championship, the PGA.
Past Wells Fargo winners in the field include Max Homa (2019), Jason Day (2018), Brian Harman (2017), James Hahn (2016) and Rickie Fowler (2012). Francesco Molinari, who won the last event played at TPC Potomac – the 2018 Quicken Loans National – is also in the field.
Have an opinion? Tell us at email@example.com and we may publish your letter. To receive all the latest Morning Read news and commentary free in your inbox every morning, sign up here.