By Ken MacLeod
Defending PGA Champion Phil Mickelson and his decision not to play in the 2022 PGA Championship beginning Thursday at Southern Hills Country Club was still a burning topic as many of the world’s top players met with the media Tuesday.
Many had a genuine sense of regret that Mickelson will not be here after his stunning victory at age 50 last May at Kiawah Island. Yet there was also the clear understanding that his efforts to help organize the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Tour put him at odds with many of his brethren who don’t support efforts that could undermine or create a serious competitor for the PGA Tour.
The prevailing sentiment by Tuesday was that Mickelson had made a choice open to all, they didn’t agree with it and were ready to move on and talk about the 2022 Championship in the context of who is going to play and how.
“Honestly I’m rooting for it all to be over,” said Rory McIloroy. “I’m just so sick of talking about it. I’ve made my decision, and I know where I want to play, and I’m not standing in anyone’s way, and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t go over there and play if that’s what they feel is right for them, then 100 percent they should go and do it.
“I’m certainly not wanting to stand in anyone’s way, but I think the sooner it all happens and the sooner everything shakes out, I think we can all just go back to not talking about it and doing what we want to do.”
Mickelson has said he had the best interests of his PGA Tour competitors at heart, trying to play the Saudis against the PGA Tour in an effort to leverage a larger share of PGA Tour riches down the line for the top players. Many are having trouble digesting his methods, even if they give him the benefit of the doubt that in Phil’s mind he actually thought he could pull this off.
Tiger Woods, whose voice carries more weight with his colleagues than any other, reiterated his previous stance that he disagrees strongly with Mickelson’s tactics.
“It’s always disappointing when the defending champion is not here,” Woods said. “Phil has said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the Tour and committed to the legacy of the Tour have pushed back against, and he’s taken some personal time, and we all understand that.
“But I think that some of his views on how the Tour could be run, should be run, been a lot of disagreement there. But as we all know, as a professional, we miss him being out here. I mean, he’s a big draw for the game of golf. He’s just taking his time and we all wish him the best when he comes back.”
Mickelson, a six-time major winner, has only missed two majors in his long career. The last major champion not to defend was McIlroy in 2015 due to a knee injury suffered playing soccer.
McIlroy has softened his stance on Mickelson and seems to recognize the LIV Golf Tour will be a reality whether most of the top tour pros like it or not. Whether it draws many players not in the twilight of their PGA Tour careers remains to be seen, but massive amounts of money outweigh Saudi Arabia’s terrible record on human rights.
“It’s unfortunate, sad,” McIlory said. “This should be a celebration, right? He won a major championship at 50 years old. It was possibly his last big, big moment in the game of golf. He should be — I think he should be here this week and celebrating what a monumental achievement he achieved last year.”
Justin Thomas, who like Woods and McIlroy supports the Tour and the steps it is taking to address compensation for the top players, is also looking forward to the day players make their decisions and move on.
“I’m very content with the direction the PGA Tour is going, and I think it’s just going to continue to go get better and better, very quickly, too,” Thomas said. “I think a lot of players feel the same way, which is very important. We have a lot of loyalty to the tour. They have done a lot for us. We have all said things can be better, but same thing as if you went and played that. Like you want things to be better anyway. Like why wouldn’t we all want things better than we have it?
“So I mean, I’m not sure what the end game is going to be, and I think a lot of people very similar to myself are just kind of ready for it to happen or not and us stop answering questions about it. “
PGA Championship Notes:
Kerry Haigh, Chief Championships Officer with the PGA of America, addressed course setup in a joint presser with PGA CEO Seth Waugh and PGA President Jim Richerson.
The new tee on 13 located behind the 12th green which pushed the distance back to over 630 yards has resulted in most players laying up behind the pond fronting the small green sloped back to front.
New back tees on holes 3, 7 and 10 have resulted in many more players using driver than did in 2007 or in the Senior PGA Championship in 2021.
The potential disruption of players on the par-3 sixth tee having to wait both for players to tee off on 3 from the new tee which is basically located on the sixth tee box and wait for players to tee off on 7 from the back tee behind the sixth green is something that will be interesting to watch when the tournament gets under way Thursday. Haigh said he is confident that the players will take turns and keep moving.
Haigh said players are facing far more shot options than they did in previous major championships, thanks to clearing of more than 650 trees by the club and the restoration by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner.
“I think they did an incredible job,” Haigh said. “ They did a lot of different things, widened the landing areas of the fairways. They moved some of the bunkers back. They added five or six new tees for the back. State-of-the-art hygronics on the greens for cool season grasses here in the hot heat of the summer, and all of that just gives us more sort of canvas to test the best players.
“It provides them a lot more shot options, a lot more shot variety, a lot more options to hit woods or drivers offer the tee, which in certainly in ’07 there was a lot more lay-up holes than there are this week, or at least players have the option. I think those factors, if I’m a player, I’m going to enjoy playing what it offers. “
Waugh mentioned the new PGA Reach A Place To Play program that recently resulted in a $250,000 donation to be used for the upgrade of Tulsa’s public golf courses, providing a $1 million match of American Rescue Plan Act funds designated by the Tulsa City Council can be achieved. Over half that amount remains to be raised, please go to https://tulsacf.org/golf/ to donate.