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Why CBS Sports Should Absolutely Hire Phil Mickelson Right Now

There's no one better to boost CBS' moribund golf broadcast booth, writes Morning Read's John Hawkins. Lefty has the personality, the credentials and the rare ability to mix insight with opinion at a moment's notice.
Phil Mickelson, behind a CBS microphone after winning the 2021 PGA Championship.

Phil Mickelson, behind a CBS microphone after winning the 2021 PGA championship.

Few elite players from any generation would seem better suited to pursue a television career than Phil Mickelson. He is Johnny Miller with a much bigger personality: a gregarious wise guy armed with oversized portions of introspect and intellect, an independent thinker with a nose for controversy and the loosest lips in golf. When it comes to rattling a cage, hogging a stage or polarizing the masses, Philly Mick was Bryson DeChambeau long before Bryson DeChambeau.

Despite winning his sixth major title less than six months ago, Mickelson’s competitive days are approaching the 18th tee. And despite three victories in five starts on the PGA Tour Champions, Lefty doesn’t appear likely to become a regular on the senior circuit — five appearances in 17 months does not a commitment make. That landmark triumph at the 2021 PGA Championship earned Mickelson another five years of fully exempt status on the big tour, but Father Time isn’t renowned for his patience.

Amid the steady current of criticism directed at CBS’ golf coverage since the departure of Gary McCord and Peter Kostis two years ago, the perception of Mickelson as a turnkey solution alongside anchor Jim Nantz adds an elephant-in-the-booth dimension to the big picture. Many dissatisfied viewers cite lead analyst Nick Faldo as the primary culprit for CBS’ listless presentation. By replacing Sir Nick with Philly Mick, the network would create an enormous splash and instantly appeal to a younger audience — the reason CBS sports chairman Sean McManus dismissed McCord and Kostis.

Neither of those factors would assure Mickelson’s success as a TV commentator, much less turn him into pro golf’s version of Tony Romo, a McManus hire who has quickly emerged as the most popular NFL voice since John Madden. That said, it’s difficult to envision Mickelson failing behind a microphone, given his ability to mix acute insight with sharp opinions as Nantz pilots the broadcast beside him.

“I actually think he could be one of the best ever,” says Paul Azinger, who handles the same duties for NBC.

Lofty praise, obviously, although the entire scenario remains pure conjecture, at least for now. Nothing more than sexy podcast fodder, as neither Mickelson nor CBS have addressed the situation publicly, which certainly wouldn’t happen until an agreement was reached, anyway. In lieu of a trail of breadcrumbs, however, there are a couple of subtle clues one could easily perceive as an indication of mutual interest.

Until the following three questions come with definitive answers, it all amounts to a hunch without punch. Of course, some hypotheticals are a lot more whimsical than others.

Does Mickelson want the job?

The lefthander did not respond to a text inquiry regarding his TV ambitions in general or a potential courtship with CBS. In February, Mickelson's longtime agent, Steve Loy, was quoted as saying, “It wouldn’t surprise me if in the next 12 to 24 months, you might see more of Phil on the air.” The two men have been joined at the hip on all business matters for more than 30 years. Loy was the golf coach at Arizona State University and successfully recruited Mickelson to play for the Sun Devils, then became his manager when the prodigy turned pro. The former ASU skipper wasn’t talking out of school when he made that statement. He was dropping a hint. An overture.

Six months earlier, Mickelson had made a surprise visit to the CBS booth during the third round of the PGA Championship — the first major played after the COVID-19 suspension of the 2020 season. He spent about an hour that afternoon with Nantz and Faldo, earning highly positive reviews for his color commentary during what now looks a lot like an audition.

If Lefty has no designs on making TV an occupation, he’s doing a poor job of disguising it.

Does CBS want Mickelson?

Anyone who owns six major titles and talks in complete sentences would pique the interest of a major network, although Faldo only ticks off the first of those boxes. He does have a British accent — foreign lilts almost seem like a prerequisite to calling golf on CBS — but like most of his international colleagues, Faldo offers little to viewers when it comes to dispensing relevant insight or competitive nuances. That’s why Mickelson would be such an asset, why CBS needs him a lot more than it probably thinks.

He knows the players. He knows the courses. He has a discerning critical eye and an opinion on almost everything, which enlivens any telecast a hundred times more effectively than the bottomless trough of banalities and happy talk that characterize the product now. Most significantly, Philly Mick articulates his thoughts in concise, almost instinctive fashion. He has a deeper reservoir of information than did Miller and a vivacious sense of humor, especially for a guy whom many tour pros have considered arrogant and full of himself.

As prospective analysts go, Mickelson is the complete package. Outside of Tiger Woods, he might be the only player on earth who could boost ratings simply by accepting the job, which makes this an excellent time to discuss compensation. CBS pays Faldo $8 million annually to work all but a couple of its 20 or so events. In February 2020, the network signed Romo to a long-term extension worth $17.5 million per season. Including preseason games and the playoffs, he also carries a workload of about 20 weeks each year.

One can see how Mickelson might be reluctant to take on such a hearty schedule. CBS televises a majority of the West Coast swing, then covers a tournament every week from the Masters to the U.S. Open and everything but the British Open from late June to the end of August. Does $10 million for 15 events sound about right? It doesn’t matter what we think. It’s all about whether Mickelson is willing to invest the time and energy to become the most handsomely paid spectator in golf history.

Is there a downside or deterrent to all this?

Absolutely. If the idea of spending 50 or 60 nights studying PGA Tour stats in a hotel room doesn’t appeal to him, Mickelson might remind himself that he doesn’t need the money, no matter how much CBS is willing to throw at him. Just two years ago, McManus added Davis Love III to the CBS team. Knowledgeable but vastly inexperienced, Love quit after just eight months, his role at the network having been relegated to duties as an on-course reporter.

Greg Norman was a profound bust during his exceptionally brief stint with Fox Sports, which acquired the TV rights to all USGA events beginning in 2015. The Shark was dumped after a mere handful of tourneys, primarily because he had no idea what he was getting into, no desire to prepare for a telecast and no intention of heeding advice from experienced sources.

Ben Crenshaw couldn’t cut it in the chair next to Nantz during the mid-1990s. It isn’t easy to say something intelligent to a couple of million people on a moment’s notice, especially when you’re given just a few seconds to make that statement and no realistic chance of substantiating it.

Mickelson would be wise to ponder the task in its entirety. A limited commitment might be his best bet, which would allow CBS to keep Faldo around and consider the possibility of a three-man booth. “Phil and Nick together could make for really good listening,” says Azinger, who teamed up with Faldo and anchor Mike Tirico as ABC’s lead trio from 2005 through 2007. “Sellers Shy is a fantastic producer. Nick and Phil and Nantz are a can’t-miss. I personally think that taking Faldo completely out would be a mistake.”

Faldo’s disconnected style and collection of non sequiturs might drive some viewers crazy, but the guy is no dummy. If he has a strength, it’s that he’s usually provides his best analysis at big tournaments. Few people on earth know more about the intricacies of Augusta National, and when Sir Nick becomes fully engaged in the heat of a Sunday afternoon battle, his wealth of experience as a decorated player can produce some worthwhile impressions.

Mickelson is a potential goldmine for CBS, however, a franchise player with all the tools to meet Azinger’s expectations. His language skills are abnormally high, his diction polished, his willingness to call it as he sees it beyond reproach. If CBS brass can come to terms with the notion that its golf coverage has slipped dramatically in recent years, McManus should do himself a favor and call Loy. Then again, maybe he already has.