Phil Mickelson became the oldest major champion of all time when he triumphed in last May’s PGA Championship; Mickelson’s controversial comments regarding the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series led to him apologising and taking time away from the sport.
Following Phil Mickelson’s withdrawal from the 2022 PGA Championship, we chronicle the reigning champion’s spectacular fall from grace a year on from his historic triumph.
Just three weeks short of his 51st birthday, Mickelson produced a stunning victory at the long and punishing Ocean Course at Kiawah Island to become the oldest major champion in the sport’s history.
A sixth major title for Mickelson, who had been largely struggling to compete at elite level, appeared to be a fairy-tale finish to his career at the top of the game.
However, after the emergence of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series later in the year, Mickelson would go on to make comments that tainted his status as one of the sport’s most beloved players.
After basking in the glory of his PGA Championship triumph on social media, Mickelson would make little impact at the highest level throughout the rest of the year.
He finished 62nd at the US Open at Torrey Pines in June before missing the cut at The Open at Royal St George’s in July. A 17th-place finish at WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational was the only time – in addition to his Kiawah Island win – that Mickelson would finish in the top 20 on the PGA Tour all season.
However, Mickelson would enjoy success as a vice-captain on the US Ryder Cup team, as Steve Stricker’s charges delivered a dominant 19-9 victory over Padraig Harrington’s European team at Whistling Straits.
Mickelson would also continue to impress on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, winning the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship to take his tally to four wins from six appearances on the seniors’ tour.
After months of speculation, in late October it was finally announced that the Asian Tour would be revamped with the addition of a series of 10 new marquee events, with significant funding coming from Saudi Arabia’s Private Investment Fund.
Former World No 1 Greg Norman was appointed as the chief executive of the company behind the venture, LIV Golf Investments, which announced it was committing more than $200m (£145m) to the sport.
Speculation over which players were keen to participate in the series would follow, with Mickelson one of several big names to be included in reports.
While it would later be confirmed that the new series would begin in the UK in June 2022, Mickelson was among a significant group of the world’s top players to feature in the regular Asian Tour event in Saudi Arabia in February.
While at the tournament, he would conduct an interview with Golf Digest in which he spoke about the “obnoxious greed” of the PGA Tour, citing the organisation’s control over players’ media rights.
Stunning Mickelson quotes shock golf
While there was a mixed reaction to Mickelson’s comments in Saudi Arabia, with Brooks Koepka publicly questioning his former Ryder Cup team-mate, tensions were about to be escalated to a completely different level.
Later in February, ahead of the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational in California, it was revealed that Mickelson called the Saudis “scary m*********** to be involved with” and questioned the country’s human rights record in an interview with Alan Shipnuck for his upcoming book on the 51-year old.
But despite this, Mickelson said the money on offer from the proposed Saudi Super League was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates”.
He added: “They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right.’
The comments were widely criticised by the golf community, with Rory McIlroy calling the six-time major winner’s comments “egotistical and ignorant”.
Phil Mickelson apologises for ‘reckless’ comments
The following week Mickelson would release a statement apologising for his “reckless” comments, insisting he has always acted “with the best interests of golf” but regrets the words he used.
Mickelson reiterated his belief “golf desperately needs change” and described his partnership with LIV Golf Investments as “very positive”.
Mickelson also said he needed time away from the game. He said: “The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”
Long-time Mickelson sponsor KPMG announced they were ending their deal with him, while Workday said it would not renew their contract with him.
Several high-profile players including Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau announced their opposition of the contentious Saudi plans, with McIlroy declaring the breakaway series “dead in the water”.
Misses Masters for first time in 28 years
There was speculation that Mickelson could opt to make his return to action in April at The Masters, where the three-time champion is a hugely popular figure with the August patrons.
However, a couple of weeks before the event, tournament organisers confirmed that Mickelson would miss the competition for the first time in 28 years.
Meanwhile, Norman announced that the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire would host the first of eight 54-hole tournaments that would make up the LIV Golf Invitational Series. Norman would add that the door was “wide open” for Mickelson to play in the events.
Attention then turned to the PGA Championship, where many had thought Mickelson would return to defend his title, particularly after it was confirmed that he had registered to play in the event at Southern Hills.
But once more, the week before the tournament, PGA Championship organisers confirmed Mickelson’s withdrawal. A statement said: “Phil is the defending champion and currently eligible to be a PGA Life Member and we would have welcomed him to participate.”
What’s next? LIV opener return beckons, along with US Open
Mickelson has registered for June’s US Open, with the lure of the Wanamaker Trophy – the only major missing from his collection – surely enough to tempt him to play at Brookline’s Country Club.
He has also requested an exemption from the PGA Tour to play at the LIV Golf Invitational Series opener a week before the US Open. Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia also publicly disclosed that they had asked to be released for the event.