AP – Phil Mickelson stuck to his script and showed restraint when put in tough spots at the US Open, a big change for him. Except on Monday, he was using words instead of his golf clubs.
Still to come is the major reputed to be the toughest test in golf, the only one keeping him from joining golf’s most elite group with the career Grand Slam. And this one figures to be far different from any other Mickelson has faced.
The six-time major champion is competing on American soil for the first time in more than four months, now the face of a Saudi-funded league that aims to disrupt the PGA Tour. At risk is his popularity built up over 30 years for his wins and losses, equally memorable.
“In regards to if fans would leave or whatnot, I respect and I understand their opinions, and I understand that they have strong feelings and strong emotions regarding this choice,” Mickelson said. “And I respect that.”
He added nothing from his comments last week outside London, where Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and 15 others defied PGA Tour regulations by competing in Greg Norman’s new LIV Golf series that paid Lefty a reported USD200 million just for signing up.
Mickelson said while tour players have been suspended – some of them resigned before the opening tee shot last week – he hasn’t ruled out playing the PGA Tour again. He said on Monday that should be his decision.
“I’ve worked hard to earn a lifetime membership,” said Mickelson, whose six majors are part of his 45 career tour victories. “I’ve worked hard to give back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf throughout my 30-plus years of professional golf, and I’ve earned that lifetime membership, so I believe that it should be my choice.”
He was dressed in a black shirt with his personal logo – an image of him leaping on the 18th green at Augusta National with his arms in the air from winning the 2004 Masters for his first major.
He still has that scruffy beard, no hat, and he took questions for 25 minutes. But he was halting in speech at times, often looking down at his feet before answering, the words not flowing as easily as they usually do. He became irritated when he felt reporters were asking more than one question.
One was about the meaning of legacy and if his would change now that he was being funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. “I don’t like it when you keep asking multiple questions,” he replied.
As for his legacy, he said he appreciated what the PGA Tour has done for him and “I’m excited about the opportunity that LIV Golf presents for me”.
Otherwise, he took a straight path. Anything related to his future on the PGA Tour he felt would be speculation. Any changes to US Open criteria was not for him to say publicly.
Mickelson earned a five-year exemption from winning the PGA Championship last year at age 50.