Six months in, we should be used to the new, circumspect Phil Mickelson, and yet it’s still dissatisfying when he doesn’t give us much. The most recent example arrived Wednesday night in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Bob Harig.
Mickelson spoke with Harig for 45 minutes and was provided every opportunity to explain how he viewed the recent wave of changes in men’s pro golf. What a treat! After all, Mickelson was the lynchpin LIV signing in June. He was the one who discussed the PGA Tour’s “obnoxious greed,” as he called it, back in February. And it was his comments that became international news, causing LIV Golf to pause its launch in the spring.
Still, given the platform to say whatever he pleased, Mickelson maintained the same reserved, modest tone we’ve seen and heard all summer: He says he’s just happy. Really happy. “Extremely happy,” even, that top golfers are getting more of what they want (money, scheduling benefits, etc.) both now and in the near future. Why does that come as such a relief to him? Mickelson didn’t offer much more to Harig, adding only that he’s “moving on” to the brave new world of LIV Golf. The PGA Tour is in his past. The new Mickelson seems here to stay, his observations cautious and brief, just like they were when LIV launched in London.
That’s what the last few months have been like for Mickelson: guarded. His press conferences have been filled with pauses and methodical answers, and his on-course actions whittled down to a thumbs up here and there, not to mention far fewer birdies than we’re accustomed to seeing on his cards. After missing the cut at the U.S. Open, Mickelson talked with a pool reporter, not the press at large. When reporters asked to speak with him after he missed the cut at St. Andrews, Mickelson responded with what the press liaison called a “firm no.” He has avoided social media almost entirely, and while that might be a positive move for anyone’s mental health, this was the man who embraced those channels like no other, eager to engage with fans, playfully jab media members and toss out dozens of responses between sips of wine after winning the 2021 PGA Championship. Until Friday morning (when Mickelson quote tweeted Harig), Lefty had not tweeted in nearly three months.
But if recent social media buzz can speak to anything, it’s that many believe Mickelson has been vindicated for calling into question some of the PGA Tour’s perceived ills. Greg Norman was chief among those observers, posting grammatically-challenged memes on Instagram and declaring “LIV Golf is clearly the best thing that’s ever happened to help the careers of professional golfers.”
Whether or not Mickelson actually feels vindicated, now that the PGA Tour has enacted sweeping changes that benefit its top players, that’s not a sentiment he’s ready to make public. Again, Mickelson says he’s just “generally happy.” He called his discussions with past and present PGA Tour commissioners “pretty well documented,” thus not needing repeating, adding only, “it’s interesting some of the similarities.”
It is interesting some of the similarities. In years past, Mickelson would have been the perfect expert to explain why those similarities are indeed interesting. But the new Mickelson appears unbothered with publicizing any specifics. It was only seven months ago that he was more than happy to incorrectly cite details about the value of Tour media rights being withheld from top pros. Part of Mickelson’s vague nature this year is no doubt attributable to the fact that the plaintiffs in the most significant lawsuit in PGA Tour history are “Mickelson, et al.” There seemingly is an added layer of litigious cautiousness to everything he says.
On the short list of things Mickelson is interested in discussing is leverage. Among “monopoly,” “strategic alliance” and “competition,” that eight-letter L-word may be the most important word in golf’s civil war. It was one of the most important words Mickelson shared with Alan Shipnuck 10 months ago.
“As nice a guy as [Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as,” Mickelson said in November 2021, “unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage.”
On Wednesday, Mickelson reiterated that once again. “It was stated very clearly that nothing was going to happen,” Mickelson told Harig. “Unless there was leverage, nothing was going to change. And all players should be appreciative of what LIV is doing. The players on LIV for the opportunity they are getting. And the PGA Tour for the leverage that was provided to get these changes done.’’
Who provided that leverage? LIV Golf did, Mickelson said. That’s his new business partner and the shield he has occasionally veiled himself behind this summer, leaving us all rather confused at how public a role he wants to play moving forward. LIV Golf is also the most recent plaintiff added to the lawsuit that bears his name and the same body that provided him media training as it launched in June.
“I’m learning from my mistakes,” he told reporters shortly after that training. Not much has changed in the three months since.