Phil Mickelson was announced this week as the last man in the field for the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational event in London. In a way, the decision was far from shocking; Mickelson has long publicized his flirtation with the Saudi-backed league, to the point where his comments about that league – highlighted by a report by Fire Pit Collective – that he hired lawyers to challenge LIV Golf’s operating charter to create – led to a three-month sabbatical from the tour. Still, Monday’s announcement turned theory into reality, and that reality has very real consequences for Mickelson and the sport.
Our Golf Digest contributors discuss Mickelson’s move to LIV Golf and if we last saw Phil on the PGA Tour.
Are you surprised that after all the backlash over the past three months, Mickelson has still made the jump? Are you surprised that LIV Golf still wanted him after admitting he was using them as leverage?
Dan Rapaport, staff writer: I’m not. Ignore the noise and look at the facts: He’s never wavered from his stance that the PGA Tour is maddeningly greedy and needs to be challenged. He was involved in the formation of this league. He was in regular contact with Greg Norman. And the apology he issued after his explosive interview sounded more like a mea culpa aimed at the Saudis, not the PGA Tour. He is attached to it and was from the beginning.
Joel Beall, senior author: Surprised by Phil? No; He’s a long-time carnival barker and the show he sells is himself. His comments in February regarding the PGA Tour felt a bit like Cortes was burning the boats, so maybe there wasn’t a choice (more on that in a moment ). As for LIV… sort of! I know they’re desperately trying to get this thing to work, but boy did he basically take a flamethrower for the entire operation and nearly burned the place down.
Shane Ryan, Contributing Author: It’s definitely not surprising that Phil made the jump, he’s telegraphed this to us for a long time, and while we don’t have access to his finances, everything we’ve learned of late seems to indicate he has the money needs. I’m at least a little surprised that LIV Golf wanted him after he labeled the Saudi government a homophobic journalist killer with a terrible human rights record. But for a team looking to launch their venture with some fanfare, the fact that Phil Mickelson was on board clearly outweighed any insult felt in the House of Saud.
Alex Myers, senior author: Not at all. Obviously, Mickelson has had his eye on a big payday for some time, and losing all those sponsors has only increased his appetite/need for one. I’m even less surprised that LIV Golf still want him. It’s Phil Mickelson. Even as he nears his 52nd birthday, he remains the second biggest name in the game – and arguably the most entertaining.
Aside from the majors, has Mickelson made his last PGA Tour start?
Chris Powers, Staff Writer: If he gets a bag the size of Dustin Johnson to play on the LIV, I think the better question is: does Phil even have to play the PGA Tour again, or does he even need to? Even without the career grand slam, his golfing legacy is fully intact despite this questionable late-career move. A few more PGA Tour Champions wins or the odd AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am win (assuming the Tour allows him to play again) won’t change that.
rapport: It all depends on the courts – if they rule in favor of the PGA Tour and uphold a potential discipline that would force a choice between the PGA Tour and LIV, I think Phil would choose LIV. He’s in too deep now. But when forcing an election isn’t legally tenable, at least he – and everyone else – has a chance to have their cake and eat it, too.
be everything: In the generous assumption that his three-month sabbatical was his decision and his decision alone, I cannot imagine the tour that will welcome him back. The comments were one thing; If the Fire Pit Collective report is true, Phil is not an employee of LIV Golf, he is its architect. In connection with attending and participating in the events, Mickelson’s potential ban could be life.
According to reports, LIV appears to be struggling to sell tickets. Is Phil enough to draw crowds when the series comes to the United States?
powers: Judging by the mob scene he creates at every single PGA Tour stop, I imagine Lefty will have no problem attracting crowds at the US-based events. Some people might literally go just to see him, which will make the group of James Piot, Jediah Morgan and Laurie Canter feel like they’re playing in a library. But they’ll probably accept that compromise to have any sort of Phil-sized crowd in attendance.
mine: Yes. Obviously we’re not talking PGA Tour event-sized viewers here, but Phil is still the #2 player. As much as LIV needed a star who was still in his prime — or at least close to his prime — like Dustin Johnson, I think Mickelson is a more important asset. He will bring many more fans to the courts – and whatever fan experiences LIV has planned – as a DJ.
Ryan: He will sell some tickets but I think it’s easy to overstate how badly the average American golf fan would want to see him at this stage in his career. I’m just not sure we live in a sports climate where putting up a few billboards with Phil’s face on will result in hordes of fans pouring out, even in major metropolitan areas. That’s not to say they won’t get viewers – people still love to get out and watch professional golf – just that I don’t think Phil’s presence will see a massive surge.
rapport: Yes he is. Despite his almost complete lack of success since Kiawah, he’s still a clear No. 2 for notoriety in the game. People will turn up to see him. I don’t think he’s big enough to singlehandedly carry a new tour – only a guy could do that and his initials are TW – but he’s certainly a great asset.