For the past two decades, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been the preeminent figures in golf. Tiger achieved that status primarily on the extraordinary things he’s done on the golf course—and they are monumental without question. Phil’s legacy has been built largely on personal warmth and family values, as well as his remarkable achievements on the PGA Tour. When the scandal involving Tiger’s personal life exploded at the end of 2009 and continued into the Spring of 2010, there was no question that he would be at Augusta National in April. Yet a few ill-chosen words regarding Saudi Arabia have resulted in a 2022 Masters without Phil. And his appearance at Southern Hills to defend as reigning PGA Champion appears to be in doubt as well. The severity of the treatment Mickelson has received from golf’s establishment and the media is far beyond what would be considered reasonable, so clearly there is much more here than meets the eye.
Putting the Saudis Aside
The Saudi connection to the Super Golf League, while less than appealing, is most definitely not an issue that would raise the ire of the PGA Tour to such a degree. Two of golf’s legendary figures, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, have forged ties with golf in Saudi Arabia without creating a ripple in the media. Jack is currently designing an exclusive private course in the Kingdom (Qiddiya), just outside of Riyadh. And Gary Player, who recently joined Nicklaus Design, has been named the “International Ambassador” for Golf Saudi. Yet both took their rightful place as honorary starters at the 2022 Masters, with neither the PGA Tour nor Augusta National voicing a concern of any kind (and Gary even attended the ceremony displaying a Golf Saudi logo).
At the end of the day, money is at the heart of the matter. The PGA Tour generates annual revenue in excess of a billion dollars, and anything that threatens to disrupt that revenue stream is viewed as an existential threat. While being among the most recognized athletes in the world (No. 12 according to Business Insider), and even with the substantial resources he brings to the table, Phil simply can’t go head-to-head with the Tour. But considering all of the goodwill and excitement that Phil has generated for so many years, it is stunning to see just how far the PGA Tour is willing to go. And seeing Tiger at The Masters was wonderful, but it was painfully obvious that he pushed the envelope too far this time with such an early return. While Tiger is the fiercest competitor the world has ever known, and Augusta holds a special place in his heart, one has to wonder if he also felt pressure to deliver an inevitable spike in ratings—particularly in light of Phil’s conspicuous absence. Tiger most certainly delivered the ratings, and now we can only hope he is able to recover and make his presence felt at the PGA Championship in May.
Phil has always put family first, and it is commonly known that once an event is concluded and he has given himself to the fans by signing countless autographs, he will immediately head home to have as much time as possible with Amy and his children. And while the rift between Phil and the Tour is essentially a business conflict, the media storm surrounding it has undoubtedly been difficult for the entire family. Keep in mind that Phil skipped the 2017 U.S. Open to attend his daughter’s High School graduation (where Amanda was delivering the commencement address), and they are a tightly knit group. The personal assault on Phil has escalated well beyond business boundaries, and the time has come for the Tour to consider everything that Phil Mickelson has done for the game of golf, and his importance to the millions who admire him as both a talented golfer and a good man. Amy has always stood behind Phil, in spite of his occasional missteps over the years. And they have been through challenging times before—so you can be sure the Mickelson family will weather this storm as well.
Getting Back to Golf
Years from now, when the golf community looks back at the greats of the game to honor Phil along with Jack, Tiger, Snead and Hogan, this brief period of unpleasantness will be long forgotten. Now, however, it is time for the PGA Tour and Phil to mend fences and move on. Mickelson became the oldest player in golf history to win a major at the PGA Championship last year, and golf fans deserve the opportunity to see him defend it. What better way can there be to turn the page while ushering in the bright young stars of the future, than to see Phil and Tiger together at Southern Hills in May.