Tag: Phil Mickelson

The Players Who Made Time Stand Still

Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry: Defied the Laws of Nature

Not surprisingly, when PGA Tour players hit forty years old the wins start to become fewer and far between, and top 10 finishes occur with far less frequency. And by forty-five, the Champions Tour starts to look pretty attractive if the competitive juices are still flowing.

Phil Wins PGA at 51

When Phil won the PGA Championship in 2021 at 51 years old, it sent shock waves through the golf world. A half century had passed since Julius Boros, the oldest to win a major before Phil, won the PGA in 1968 at 48 years old. And while Mickelson maintained his skills at a high level throughout his 40’s, he was still not the same player he was in his 30’s. Phil recorded 21 wins in his 30’s with a 37% top 10 percentage, but won only 6 times in his 40’s with a top 10 percentage of 22% (still very high).

Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer: 88 Wins on Champions Tour

Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer lead the list for wins on the Champions Tour (Irwin with 45 and Langer with 43), but even they did not come close to carrying the success they had when they were in their 30’s into their 40’s. In his 30’s, Langer recorded 18 wins on the European Tour (now the DP World Tour) and also won the Masters, but won only 9 times in his 40’s. And while Hale Irwin won the U.S. Open at 45, he recorded only 2 other Tour wins in his 40’s as compared with 13 wins while in his 30’s.

Players who actually got better in their 40’s are extremely rare, but Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry did exactly that—and seemingly defied the laws of nature.

Vijay Singh: 23 Wins After Turning 40

Vijay Singh

Vijay was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006, and with 3 major championships and 31 additional tour wins, he is among the top twenty players in golf history. Over the course of his career, Vijay made the cut in 87% of the tournaments he entered and finished in the top 10 over 35% of the time—but what really sets him apart is the age at which he recorded so many of those wins.

While in his 30’s, Singh recorded 11 wins, including 2 major championships while finishing among the top 10 in over 34% of the tournaments he entered. In his 40’s, Vijay won 23 times, including another major championship and ten major Top-10’s.

Most amazing is that Vijay’s top 10 percentage was over 37% from 40-49 years old, higher than it was in his 30’s—and no other player in the history of the game has performed at that level through his 40’s.

Vijay was always recognized as one of the greatest drivers of all-time, and he maintained his length and accuracy far beyond the boundaries of what mere mortals generally achieve. If his putting stroke had approached the level of his game tee-to-green, Singh would surely be smiling down from the Mt. Rushmore of golf alongside Jack and Tiger.

Kenny Perry: Aged Like a Fine Wine

Kenny Perry

Kenny Perry turned 27 years old in August of 1987, his first full season on the PGA Tour—so his golf career got started quite a bit later than most. In his first 3 years, Kenny finished in the top 10 only 7 times in 85 starts, and he didn’t record his first Tour win until he was 31 (The Memorial in 1991).

In his 30’s, Perry won 3 times on Tour and made the cut in just over 68% of the events he entered, finishing in the top 10 just over 13% of the time (solid, but not among the top echelon on Tour). While Kenny had a very good year in 1998 at age 36 with a runner-up at the PGA Championship and 8 Tour top-10’s, his next 3 years were pretty mediocre as he failed to record a win and finished in the top 10 a total of 7 times.

But as the 3rd millennium arrived and Kenny turned 40, the flood gates suddenly opened and Perry rose like the phoenix, tacking on 11 additional tour wins and 4 major top 10’s.

From age 40-49, Kenny made the cut in over 84% of the tour events he entered and finished in the top 10 nearly 25% of the time—a massive increase from the numbers he recorded in his 30’s.

No player in Tour history ever elevated his game to such a degree after turning 40, and we rank Kenny Perry among the Top 100 players of all-time. Perry also won 10 times on the Champions Tour (including 4 Senior Major championships).

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Greats of the Game: Volume II—No. 6 through 10

Tom Watson: 5 Open Championships

Major championship performance and PGA Tour wins are the biggest factors in determining where players stand in the history of golf, but making cuts and Top-10 finishes are also important for identifying excellence and consistency.

In deriving our ratings, major championship wins carry the most weight, followed by major runner-up finishes and Tour wins. Top-5 and Top-10 finishes at the majors are also given strong consideration, along with wins on the DP World Tour and to a lesser degree, wins on other recognized Tours (Japan Tour, Sunshine Tour, Asian Tour, etc.).

Making cuts and Top-10 finishes are calculated on the basis of percentage in relation to total starts at PGA Tour sanctioned events through age 49 (when players become eligible for the Champions Tour). Top 10 percentage is given considerable weight, and cut percentage is also a factor in the rating a player receives.

Cuts and Top-10 percentage are overstated as a measure for Byron Nelson and Walter Hagan because fields were limited when they were playing–but this is offset by the fact that Nelson lost prime years in his career due to WWII (Nelson was 29 in 1941), and Hagan had fewer major championship opportunities because he was 42 years old when the first Masters was played in 1934.

While Bobby Jones is certainly among the top 5 players in history with 4 U.S. Open and 3 Open Championship titles, he chose to remain an amateur and therefore has no PGA record for reference–and has not been included in our player ratings. Harry Vardon is also among the greats of the game, with 6 Open Championship titles and a win at the US Open in 1900 (plus his famous runner-up to Francis Ouimet in 1913)—but like Jones, he has no professional record for reference and has not been included in our ratings.

The Top 5 in Volume I included Nicklaus (361), Woods (346), Snead (335), Hogan (281) and Palmer (265).

In Volume II we’ll take a look at the next five on the list of all-time greatest players to round out the Top 10.

Gary Player: The Black Knight
Golf Digest: (https://www.golfdigest.com/)

Number 6: Gary Player (236)

On top of his 9 major championship wins, Gary Player recorded 35 major Top-10’s (6 runner-up’s, 8 Top-5’s and 21 Top-10’s). The Black Knight also won 15 PGA Tournaments and had 95 additional world-wide wins. Player made the cut in close to 90% of his starts and finished in the top ten over 45% of the time. He competed with Jack and Arnie head-to-head throughout his prime between 1961 and 1971—playing a substantial role in building the PGA Tour, while elevating the global popularity of the game.

Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus serve as the honorary starters at The Masters each year, and they were joined by Lee Elder in 2022.

Byron Nelson: 11 Consecutive Wins

Number 7: Byron Nelson (227)

Byron Nelson won 5 major championships and 47 PGA tournaments. He also recorded 6 major runner-up’s and finished in the top 5 another 10 times. In 1945 Nelson set the record for wins in a season with 18, including 11 in a row. After the 1946 season, at 34 years old, Nelson retired from the regular tour playing only The Masters (where he finished in the top 10 every year from 1947-1951), as well as a limited number of additional Tour events (including The Colonial in Ft. Worth).

In 1968 The Byron Nelson Classic was launched in Dallas Texas, and it continues to be one of the most popular venues on the PGA Tour.

Walter Hagan: 11 Major Championships
(https://golf.com/)

Number 8: Walter Hagan (223)

Walter Hagan is the only player to make the cut in every tournament he played through the entirety of his career, and he finished among the top 10 in three out of every four events he entered. Hagan won 11 major championships (third behind Jack and Tiger) with 22 additional top 10 finishes, and he recorded 34 PGA tournament wins.

Hagan is considered the first American professional golfer. In the first half of the twentieth century, he and Bobby Jones were the towering figures of U.S. golf, forming the foundation for the game as we know it today.

Phil Mickelson: Wins PGA at 50

Number 9: Phil Mickelson (216)

Phil the thrill won 6 major championships, most recently at Kiawah in 2021 for his second PGA Championship at age 50 (the oldest player in history to win a major championship). Mickelson also recorded 11 runner-up finishes at the majors, second only to Jack, along with 11 Top-5’s and 11 Top-10’s.

In addition to his record at the majors, Phil won 39 PGA Tour events, making the cut in 82.3% of the tournaments he entered with a top 10 percentage of 31.5%.

Phil went up against with Tiger throughout his prime between 1996 and 2006, as well going to head-head with Ernie Els and Vijay Singh (each among the top 15 all-time).

Number 10: Tom Watson (211)

Tom Watson nearly did the impossible in 2009, when he came inches from recording his 6th Open Championship at Turnberry at the age of 58. Perhaps it should not have been such a surprise, however, when you consider Watson’s record of excellence and consistency throughout his career.

From his second full year on Tour in 1974 at age 23, through 1998 at age 48 (a quarter of a century), Watson recorded at least 4 top 10 finishes every year.

In total, Watson won 8 major championships with an additional 38 major top 10’s (including 8 runner-up and 10 top 5’s), along with 31 PGA Tour wins.

Tom made the cut in 83.9% of the tournaments he entered, and recorded top 10 finishes in just under 40% of his starts.

Gene Sarazen: No. 11

Keep an eye out for Greats of the Game Volume III, where we will take a look at Gene Sarazen (No. 11), Billy Casper (No. 12, Ernie Els (No. 13), Greg Norman (No. 14) and Vijay Sing (No. 15).

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DJ and Phil to Headline LIV Inaugural Event

Dustin Cashes In

It is hard to see “LIV Golf” (Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed series of golf tournaments) posing much of a threat to the PGA Tour over the long term. At some point it will likely go the way of the USFL and the Canadian Football League, but for right now Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson have hit the jackpot. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of room in the marketplace for an alternative golf experience, and perhaps Greg Norman’s brainchild is just the ticket for engaging broader appeal. The field for the first event this weekend in London is a bit thin though, so the individual stroke-play portion of the format is not likely to generate much excitement–unless a handicap system is implemented to give the field a fighting chance against DJ.

The “team” element, on the other hand, may provide a dynamic and emotional outlet not generally found at PGA Tour events—with the exception of the Phoenix Open of course. Fans only have a chance to let their hair down and root for a “team” once a year at the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. 12 teams will be competing at each LIV tournament, and each have a team name, logo and color scheme—with DJ’s team announced as the “4 Aces” and Phil’s squad the “High Flyers.” Perhaps “The Gunslingers” might have been a better choice for DJ as he sidles’ up to the first tee (complete with cowboy hat), and “Dark Thrill” for Phil’s squad, now that he’s been cast in the bad guy role (their team color could be all black—which Phil often wears anyway). And when Ricky Fowler finally makes up his mind to jump, perhaps his team can be called the “Biker Boys.”

Phil Makes it Official

Keep in mind that professional sport is essentially entertainment, and contemporary golf fans comprise a diverse cross-section of society, not just the high-brow country club set who expect serious golf in deadpan silence with a smattering of polite applause.

The Venues

The LIV Invitational Series will consist of eight events, with the first being played at Centurion Club in the UK just outside of London. Five of next seven will be held in the United States (two being Donald Trump courses—Trump National Bedminster in NJ and Trump National Doral, FL). The other two will be at international venues—one of which being Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Jedda, Saudi Arabia (no surprise) and the other Stonehill Golf Club in Bangkok, Thailand.

Centurion Club, UK

The Format

Each event will include a field of 48 players, with both an individual and a “team” component over 3 rounds totaling 54 holes and no cut. The total purse for each event will be $25 million, with $20 million divvied up among the field for the individual competition, and $5 million split between the top 3 finishers in the team competition. The individual component is straight forward, with the winner for each event determined by the lowest 54-hole score. Individual winners will also accumulate “ranking points,” and the player with the most points will be named the over-all individual champion after the first 7 events have been completed (the overall champion will take home an additional $18 million).

The team component is a little harder to follow. Each event will include twelve 4-man teams, comprised of a “Captain” (named by “LIV”) and 3 additional players who will be selected by the captain in a “draft” prior to each tournament. Team competition is also based on stroke play, and for the first two rounds the team score will be the total of the 2 team members carding the lowest scores, with the third-round team score being the total of the 3 team members carding the lowest scores. The team with the lowest aggregate score after 54 holes will be the winner. Once the first seven events have been completed, the teams will be “seeded” and the final event will be a match play tournament held over 4 days in October at Trump National Doral, FLwith no individual competition.

The structure for the match-play finale is a bit baffling, however. Since the fields will vary for each event, and captains will be named from players among the individual fields, it is unclear how the final 12 “captains” are to be determined for the Match Play tournament (perhaps they are permanent, and required to participate in all 7 events). It is also unclear how the composition of the teams themselves will be determined—since there will be a separate draft of players held prior to each regular event (so players may end up on different teams for each event—unless previously drafted players are permanent members of a particular team, with the draft only applying to new players being added when a team player isn’t participating in a particular event). The basis on which “seeding” will be determined for the Match Play finale is equally mysterious—but all will no doubt be revealed in good time.

Kevin Na

The Field

Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Kevin Na comprise the list of familiar names. DJ made the cut in 7 of the 10 tournaments he played this year on the PGA Tour, with 2 Top 10’s (his best being a 4th at the Match Play and a T9 at the Players). Phil hasn’t played since he missed the cut at the Farmers back in January, and Louie Oosthuizen hasn’t recorded a Top 10 since last season. Sergio has 1 Top 10 this year (a T7 at Mayakoba) and Lee Westwood missed the cut in 5 of the 9 events he’s played.

That leaves Kevin Na (9 of 12 cuts made on Tour this year with 2 Top 10’s) standing in Johnson’s path for the $4 million individual first place check. No wonder DJ had that Cheshire cat smile on his face at the LIV press conference.

The Motivation

Johnson is reported to have received a $125 million bonus for making the move, and based on the competition, he’ll very likely pocket a great deal more. At the LIV press conference, DJ stated “I don’t want to play for the rest of my life,” so it would seem he just can’t get by on the $74 million he’s already won on the PGA Tour. On the other hand, DJ may also have looked around at Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, and a host of mega-talented young guns currently on Tour, and thought it was an opportune time to cash in his chips and slip out the door.

Phil received a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $200 million, and even though he’ll turn 52 in a couple of weeks, the light-weight fields without a cut will give him the opportunity to earn a great deal more. And since his skill with games of chance appears to be quite a few notches below his ability with a wedge, perhaps he simply needs the money.

DJ and Phil Hit The Jackpot

The Future

The second LIV event will be played June 30–July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, a great track in North Plains, OR designed by Bob Cupp and Andy Johnson. It’s been reported that Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed will be joining the field, which should spice things up a bit. Chances are also pretty good that a few additional name players will announce their intention to jump over to LIV following the U.S. Open (and one of them is likely to be Ricky Fowler, who no longer enjoys exempt status on the PGA Tour).

When asked his reaction to LIV Golf at the Canadian Open press conference, Scottie Scheffler said “I haven’t really noticed anyone missing this week. Maybe outside of DJ.” Come on Scottie, you didn’t notice Kevin Na wasn’t around anymore?   

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The 2022 PGA Championship: Tiger and Phil Update

Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa Oklahoma

Tiger still plans to make his tee time on Thursday at the PGA Championship, while Phil has cancelled—opting instead to remain behind his curtain of silence. This is only the fifth time in the last sixty years that a major champion has failed to defend his title. Three of the previous four were due to injury (Art Wall-1960, Tiger-2008, Rory-2015) and the fourth was the 2000 U.S. Open, when Payne Stewart was tragically killed in a plane crash. While the reason Phil has abruptly pulled out of the PGA is shrouded in mystery, the unfortunate result will be further damage to his image and legacy.

Tiger, on the other hand, has once again done the seemingly impossible, playing the Masters last month—and making the cut in his first start in more than year while favorites like Koepka, Spieth and Xander Schauffele were packing up and heading home on Friday. The odds makers will no doubt make Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm the favorites to win, but the overwhelming majority of fans will tune in to see the old guy—so let’s take a look at his chances.

Tiger and Phil

Tiger

Southern Hills will put far less stress on Tiger’s leg than the constant climbing at Augusta National, and 5 weeks of recovery between starts will undoubtedly help. Completing four rounds at a major championship, and the certainty that his body can still perform at the highest level of tournament competition, is also a tremendous step forward. The big question is—how much did Augusta take out of him? It was impossible to miss the pain he was playing through, particularly on Saturday and Sunday. Pushing through pain, however, is nothing new to Tiger (winning the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg comes immediately to mind). He also gave up a lot of distance off the tee at Augusta (Tiger averaged 285 yards, in comparison to McIlroy who led the field at 318). On the other hand, Scottie Scheffler was twenty yards behind Rory at 298 yards—and he’s wearing a green jacket (he did pump it up to 311 on Sunday, however). Power has always been synonymous with Tiger, but what set him apart from the moment he came out on Tour was mental toughness and an unmatched ability to focus, most notably on the greens where it matters the most. The number of clutch putts Tiger has drained over the course of his career is impossible to count. On Thursday and Friday at the Masters, he putted like the Tiger we are accustomed to seeing with 24 putts on Thursday and 28 on Friday. The weekend was a different story though, with 36 putts on Saturday and 34 on Sunday—where it appeared that the pain and discomfort finally impacted Tiger’s ability to maintain focus.

Southern Hills is a long course at 7,481 yards from the tips, but while length off the tee will certainly provide an advantage, the challenge will be taming extremely firm and fast greens with diabolical fall-offs to very tight lies. And that is where Tiger is always at his best. Keep in mind as well that Tiger won the PGA at Southern Hills in 2007, so he will have pretty good karma when he tees it up on Thursday. And something tells me Tiger will have a bit more juice on his tee ball in his second comeback start. The key will be the putting though, and how he feels physically heading into the weekend. Everyone has seen Tiger literally “will” the ball into the hole—particularly when a major championship is on the line. While winning may seem like a long shot, remember that this is Tiger—where everything is possible.

A Will to Win

Phil

The absence of a public statement from Phil leaves only speculation with regard to his sudden withdrawal from the PGA. The Alan Shipnuck “tell-all” book on Phil is scheduled for release two days prior to the start of the championship, so perhaps Phil believes that his absence will result in less public attention to the book. This doesn’t seem to be a likely reason, however, since the release date has been set for some time now. Some are saying that Phil may feel his game simply isn’t sharp enough after such a long lay-off from tournament competition. This wouldn’t appear to be a factor either, since he’s had plenty of time to practice over the past few months, and he could have pulled out weeks ago. The prevailing conjecture is that Phil is annoyed because the Tour denied his application for a waiver to compete in the LIV event this summer in London, and he is trying to exact some retribution. Unfortunately, if that is the case this will only add to the damage Phil’s image has sustained over the past few months. One thing is certain, the media frenzy and pressure on Phil as defending Champion has been building for some time, and would have reached a boiling point by the time the first round of the tournament got under way.

It’s possible that the confluence of events created an atmosphere where Phil just felt he could not perform to the standard he expects from himself, and he felt it was best for the other players as well to avoid a media circus. Still, it is a blow to his faithful fans who have stood behind him all these years, and were no doubt ready to cheer him on—win or lose.

Will Not Defend

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Phil Should Defend at Southern Hills

Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa OK

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.

Gary Player at The Masters
NY Post (https://nypost.com/)

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).

Qiddiya: Nicklaus Dessin
ASGCA (https://asgca.org/)

It’s Business

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 and Family
Chapelboro (https://chapelboro.com/)

Perspective

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.

Reigning PGA Champion

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.

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A Masters without Phil

Augusta National
PGA Tour (https://www.pgatour.com/)

After missing all of February and March over his statements in support of the Saudi-backed Super Golf League, we now learn that Phil will not be at the Masters this year. The big question is why? Has he been officially suspended? The PGA Tour has been cryptically mum on that. Do the powers that be at Augusta National really not want him there? A three-time Champion? The reigning PGA Champ? Or did they bend to the wishes of Tour Commissioner, Jay Monahan. Again, a wall of silence. One thing is for sure, the television ratings for The Masters will take a hit without Phil. Granted the Saudi government, and specifically Prince Mohammed bin Salmon, is the very definition of “undesirable.” But the U.S. government hasn’t had a problem doing business with Saudi Arabia, having sold over $60 billion in military hardware to the Kingdom between 2015 and 2020. Yet Phil is being crucified because he made a few off-color remarks, for which he has since apologized. Phil is a professional golfer, not a politician. He was trying to apply additional pressure on the Tour to increase revenue sharing with regard to digital media rights. And yes, Phil would reap a substantial reward if successful, but all of the other tour players would benefit greatly as well.

Greg Norman

Super Golf League

The looming threat of the Super Golf League, offering guaranteed money, no cut, and large bonuses for big name talent had already begun to draw a reaction from the PGA Tour well before Phil entered the picture—he just gave it a nudge. A lucrative player incentive program (PIP) was announced back in April 2021, whereby players would receive bonus money based strictly on media appeal. The criteria being a complex algorithm that includes the frequency with which a player’s name comes up in Google searches, social media presence, and network broadcast appearances. For 2021, the PIP was $40 million, and jumps up to $50 million in 2022. Tiger, not Phil, was the primary beneficiary of the PIP, taking home the $8 million first place prize. And then the Tour bumped the purse at the 2022 Players Championship to $20 million, a $5 million increase over 2021. Phil was in exile for the Players, so he didn’t benefit from that either (Cameron Smith walked away with the $3.6 million first place check). In addition, the Tour has increased the FedEx prize money to $75 million for 2022, a $15 million increase over 2021. And since Phil has been banished, with no return date in sight, his chances to share in that pot of gold would appear pretty slim as well.

Getting a Pass

Taking the Heat

And what about all the other players who played footsy with the Super Golf League? Are they paying a price? Apparently not. Even players who have admitted to signing NDAs with the Super Golf League, including Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, and Adam Scott, have been given a pass by the Tour and continue to play. Phil alone is taking the heat, and with a thirty-year legacy as a stand-up guy, I suppose that is what we should expect. Still, it would be nice if a few other players (other than Rory of course), would get behind him and state the obvious—Phil belongs at the Masters.

Legacy at Augusta

But since we won’t have the opportunity to see Phil try to add a fourth green jacket to his closet this year, let’s take a minute to review what we will be missing. Mickelson has been in the field at Augusta National for 30 Masters Championships, making the cut 26 times. His record includes three wins, eight Top-5’s, and he finished among the Top-10 fifteen times. And who will ever forget Phil the Thrill dropping it inside ten feet from the pine straw on thirteen when he took home his third title in 2010. With his amazing PGA Championship victory last year at age fifty, we know Phil still has fuel in the tank. Let’s just hope he is there this year to defend it.

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Phil Deserves a Pass

Phil being Phil

Over the past few months, Phil Mickelson has faced an unprecedented level of criticism from the press, golf fans, and many of his peers on Tour for his comments supporting the “Super Golf League.” As most everyone is now aware, the Super Golf League is backed by Saudi money, specifically “PIF” (the Saudi Public Investment Fund), and the unsavory specter of Prince Salmon bin Abdulaziz, who is Chairman of PIF. When asked how he could support an endeavor connected to such people, Phil stated “while he was aware of the Kingdom’s horrible record on human rights and other crimes attributed to the prince,” he was supporting the new league for the “leverage’ it could provide for players when negotiating with the PGA Tour—specifically as applied to “Media Rights” (referring to the PGA Tour’s “obnoxious greed” in that regard). There is no question that Phil likes to speak his mind, and he will sometimes rub people the wrong way. We may also be unhappy with the choices he makes regarding his golf career. But before we pass judgement, let’s remember that actions are far more indicative of an individual’s character than words. Over the past thirty-odd years, Phil Mickelson has built a legacy of warmth, generosity, and professionalism, both on and off the golf course.

Phil the Thrill

And yes, Phil is not perfect. He is a flawed human being, just like the rest of us. Everyone has heard about his affinity for games of chance, but that aspect of Phil’s personality is precisely what makes him so much fun to watch on the golf course. His critics question his sincerity, because he takes so much time signing autographs, chatting up the fans, and being such a nice guy in public, while behind the scenes he likes to break a few chops. With six major championships and fifty-seven professional wins, Phil is among the greatest players in the history of golf —he doesn’t need to curry favor with anybody. He makes the effort to connect with fans because he has genuine empathy for people, and appreciates that a few minutes of his time can mean so much to every-day folks, including the wide-eyed twelve-year-old who just watched him create a bit of magic. And make no mistake, it takes a lot of effort. The demands placed on star athletes is staggering, and there are few who make so much time for the public, or embrace it with the warmth of Phil Mickelson.

Conrad Doblar

There are many stories of Phil’s financial generosity, but let’s remember just a few. After losing the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, Phil took the time to personally thank each volunteer and member of the club staff, distributing gratuities that totaled many thousands of dollars. It’s not so much the money, but the fact that he made such a heartfelt effort to show his appreciation, even while absorbing yet another crushing loss at the one championship that had eluded him. The previous year Phil won the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, and was described by Doug Steffen, the former Director of Golf at Baltusrol, as “one of the most generous men I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.” Win or lose, Phil is always Phil—and you really have to love him. In 2004 Phil and his wife, Amy, created “Birdies for the Brave,” a charitable initiative that has raised millions for wounded veterans. In 2001 tragedy struck the family of retired NFL player Conrad Dobler when his wife, Joy, suffered trauma that left her a quadriplegic, straining the family’s finances to the breaking point. Phil heard about it, and although he never met the Doblers personally, offered to help by paying the entirety of their daughter Holli’s college education. As Joy Dobler sees it, “If there’s anything missing in his life, it’s a set of wings. He’s an angel.”     

We should also keep in mind that while Tiger has enjoyed the bulk of the credit for increasing golf’s popularity in recent years, Phil has done more than his share. When he won the PGA Championship in 2021, Sunday viewership was 6.5 million, a 27% increase from the prior year. And before Phil made his entrance on Tour, total purses were in the neighborhood of a million dollars, while today they exceed seven million. Perhaps the players who are so quick to jump all over Phil right now should reflect on that.     

So yes, Phil made may have spoken out of turn. And he is not perfect. But I, for one, intend to give him some slack—he deserves it.

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DeChambeau and Mickelson Leaving the PGA Tour?

Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson

The rumor mill has been in high gear recently, with speculation that Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson may bolt from the PGA Tour to grab the huge money being thrown around by the Saudi-backed “Super Golf League.” The latest rumor spike has been fueled by the “PIF Saudi International,” held at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which was sanctioned by the Asian Golf Tour and attracted a number of the biggest names in golf, including Phil, DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Cameron Smith and Bubba Watson.

Greg Norman

Greg Norman (with LIV Golf Investments), is the prime mover behind the Super Golf League, and also the mastermind behind the “International Series,” a group of ten new events added to the Asian Golf Tour with a massive funding infusion from LIV (and the PIF Saudi International as the first in the series). Because the Saudi International was added as a regular event on the Asian Tour, the PGA Tour did not raise an objection to players who wanted to enter–but did include a stipulation that any player entering the Saudi event would have to play in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (held at the same time), in each of the next two years in order to retain their tour card. It is clear that Norman is using the International Series, and the Saudi International specifically, as a means to showcase the Super Golf league, and entice as many PGA Tour players as he can. On the other side, the PGA Tour has stated plainly that anyone who enters a Super Golf League tournament will immediately lose their privileges to play PGA Tour events. So where do things stand right now?

Big Money

Rumors are flying where offers in the neighborhood of $100 Million or more have been dangled in front of the biggest stars in golf, with a number of players categorically stating that they are not interested, some remaining cryptically mum, and quite a few dancing around on the fence. Players that have gone on record as saying absolutely not include Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and the biggest name of all–Tiger. The mum group is headed by Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood (each of whom stating that they signed a Non-Disclosure-Agreement with LIV Golf Investments, thus having perfect cover to dodge uncomfortable questions). The bulk of the speculation surrounds players who are on the fence, including Phil, Bryson DeChambeau, and those who competed at the Saudi International (Xander Schauffele, Cam Smith, Pat Reed, Bubba Watson and Tony Finau). Phil has been crafting his public statements to indicate that the Super Golf League can provide “leverage” for players to get a bigger piece of the PGA Tour money pie–which ironically may itself tend to negate quite a bit of the leverage he purports to seek. On the other hand, the PGA Tour appears to have already reacted to the looming threat posed by the Super Golf League, with increased purses, higher FedEx Cup prize money, and a $50 million bonus fund that is disbursed on the basis of “PIP Standings” (Player Impact Standings—basically popularity, not directly associated with performance).

Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz

The Saudi’s

The biggest hurdle that Greg Norman and the Super Golf League will face, however, is the source of the big money that’s being waved in front of the players. “LIV Golf Investments” is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as Chairman–the same man who, according to the CIA, ordered the assassination and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul back in 2018. One would think this is an association that few players would find appealing—but then again, it’s a lot of money…       

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The PGA Championship-Phil Mickelson

PGA Championship, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort SC

Congrats, Phil!

Watching Phil Mickelson stroll up the 18th hole at Kiawah Island with a two-shot lead over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen was almost surreal. I think many of us “Phil fanatics” kept pinching ourselves during those final moments thinking it was a dream. The idea of Phil, at fifty plus, holding off the imposing figure of Brooks Koepka to win the PGA Championship, seemed like an impossibility. Like Ali when he fought George Forman—there would be flashes of brilliance and plenty of determination, but sooner or later the big one would land. I kept thinking about the 2014 PGA Championship, 2015 Masters, and 2016 Open Championships where Phil fought his heart out, put up strong performances with great thrills, but ultimately came up just short. Not this time though, as Phil found an even deeper level of resolve to deliver a historic win for the ages, just as Mohamed Ali did back in 1974. It was a remarkable day, and most certainly the high point of Phil’s fantastic career. And do we dare get our hopes up for that elusive U.S. Open title? You bet we do!

Phil’s Fanatics 

Early in his career, Phil Mickelson garnered the nickname “Phil the Thrill” because he had a seemingly endless number of shots in his arsenal, and was willing pull them out of his bag at any time, regardless of risk, almost always with unlikely and eye-popping success. Since he broke out on tour in 1991, and won the Northern Telecom Open as an Amateur, everyone knew that this young lefty was going to provide us with a ton of excitement. Phil immediately captured the hearts of golf fans with his fan friendly, warm persona, along with his aggressive style of play. That style of play cost Phil quite a few tournaments, including a number of major championships, but that just endeared him to the golfing public even more. Eventually Phil’s following of loyalists became known as the “Phil fanatics.” No matter how poorly Phil might be playing, these fans never left his side. Well, the Phil fanatics were out in full force for Lefty last week at the PGA Championship. They cheered and hollered for him all week, and assembled around the 18th green to share the moment with their hero. Not since Arnie’s Army has a player generated that kind of love and excitement from golf fans—and richly deserved.

The Thrills Keep Coming

Phil’s last major victory came all the way back at the 2013 Open Championship, and there have been a number of highs and lows since then. A dry spell in 2014 and 2015 saw Mickelson drop his longtime swing coach, Butch Harman, and hire Andrew Getson. Getson revitalized Phil’s game, and their partnership resulted in 6 top 5 finishes in the 2016 season, including 3 runner-up’s—but unfortunately no victories. 2017 proved to be another winless season for Phil, now 47 years old with many believing that his days of winning on tour were behind him. But lo and behold, Phil reached into his bag of magic and surprised us all by winning the WGC Mexico Championship in 2018. It was an unbelievable victory, as he took down Justin Thomas in a thrilling playoff and proved that Lefty was not done quite yet. And then in 2019, Phil won again, capturing his fifth AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, only to struggle for the remainder of the year, failing to record a single top ten. The 2020 season proved to be another disappointment for Lefty, with only two top 5 finishes in the shortened season. And going into the PGA Championship this year, Phil hadn’t placed among the top 20 in a single event, most recently a disastrous finish at the Wells Fargo where he opened with a 64, only to follow that up with a 75 and a pair of 76’s. While most of the golf world viewed it as yet another sign that Phil was done, his fanatics (and most importantly Phil himself), saw only the brilliant 64, and continued to believe. Well, he’s done it again—shocking the world when everybody counted him out. Congratulations Phil, this was truly an epic performance. You can bet that Phil’s faithful flock will have swelled to record numbers for the Open at Torrey Pines next month, and win or lose, you know he will be giving it everything he’s got. A seventh major? Don’t count him out.  

2021 Valero Texas Open

The Valero Texas Open at the TPC San Antonio, San Antonio  TX
TPC San Antonio, San Antonio TX

WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay Wrap-Up

Billy Horschel raised the trophy at the WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay last week, outlasting 64 of the best players in the world after five grueling days of head-to head nail biting competition and a tough final against the long-hitting 24-year-old youngster, Scottie Scheffler. This had to be a sweet victory for Horschel, who’s last win came back in 2018, as he dug deep to pull out match after match. Most of the players everyone expected to reach the weekend didn’t make it to the final 16, so we had a chance to see some of the lesser-known players show off their skill and tenacity—including top flight European Tour pros like Victor Perez, Robert MacIntyre, and Eric van Rooyen. Since this is a WGC event with premium points, the win moved Horschel all the way up 7th position in the FedEx Cup standings. Beating a field like this one has to be a big confidence boost, and it will be interesting to see how Billy comes out of the gate at Augusta National.

Valero Texas Open

This week begins the Valero Texas Open held on the Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio Golf Resort in San Antonio. The Championship began nearly 100 years ago, and has been hosted in the San Antonio area from the very beginning. Over the years a number of different courses have been the venue for The Texas Open, including Brackenridge Park Golf Course, Willow Springs Golf Course, Oak Hills Country Club, Pecan Valley Golf Club, Woodlake Golf Club, and La Cantera Golf Club before TPC San Antonio became the permanent host in 2010. The event was historically played in the fall series of the PGA Tour season, but was switched to May in 2009 (and later moved to April, the week before the Masters). Some of the biggest names in golf history have won this event, include Walter Hagan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Gene Littler, Arnold Palmer (who won it three years in a row), Lee Trevino, Chi-Chi Rodriguez, Ben Crenshaw, and Hale Irwin.

The Field

Often the field is a little weaker the week before a major championship, with players wanting to rest a bit and sharpen particular aspects of their game, but The Valero has attracted quite a few big names, including a hard charging Jordan Spieth (final 16 at the Match Play), Tony Finau, Matt Kuchar (3rd place at the Match Play), Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland, and Phil Mickelson. Be sure to tune in this Thursday and catch some great golf as we head into Masters week.

TPC San Antonio

TPC San Antonio is a fabulous golf resort situated in the Cibolo Canyons in San Antonio, Texas. Established in 2010, and partnered with the JW Marriot San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, the golf courses are owned and operated by PGA Tour Golf Course Properties. The facilities consist of two eighteen-hole courses; The Canyons (a Pete Dye layout where the Valero is played) and The Oaks (designed by Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia.) Texas is known for nasty wind, but Pete Dye laid out the Canyons to be very playable with quality golf shots, and the course conditions are immaculate, so players will still have the opportunity to go low. The Canyons was designed to promote aggressive play, so get ready for fireworks and excitement as we head into the weekend. The USGA course rating is 76.6 with a slope of 145 on the Canyons and 74.5/139 for the Oaks. And if you are thinking about a southwestern golf get-away, you can’t go wrong at the JW Marriot San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa—first class quality all the way.

TPC San Antonio received a GolfDay Rating of 100.

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