The PGA Championship is a week away and there is still no indication if the tournament’s defending champion is going to be at Southern Hills Country Club to participate.
Phil Mickelson has been in virtual exile since various comments about the PGA Tour, Saudi golf and his link to the LIV Golf Invitational Series caused several sponsors to drop him and the six-time major champion to issue an apology in which he said he would be stepping away.
But Mickelson has entered the PGA, and now it’s a matter of whether he plays or not.
Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America, said he’s had several conversations with Mickelson and told Gary Williams on his “5 Clubs Conversations’’ podcast that discussions continue.
“I think he’s trying to figure out when the right time is for him,’’ Waugh said. “I think the game is trying to figure out the right time for him, too. How long is enough? And is he ready mentally and physically to do it?’’
Because Mickelson is entered in the tournament, there is nothing else he needs to do but show up and register. He could take this up until the first round of the event, although that would seem unlikely. When Mickelson decided not to compete in the Masters last week, he let Augusta National officials know two weeks prior.
Mickelson, 51, has not competed anywhere since the final round of the Saudi International, where he finished 17th on Feb. 6. Prior to that, he had missed the cut at the American Express Championship and Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour.
Having not entered this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson tournament, Mickelson would potentially be leaving his return to golf and the media attention that comes with it until next week.
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“I hope what we can do is have that before the flag goes up,’’ Waugh said on the podcast. “The idea is, if he does play, and if he’s able to and allowed to … he would certainly have to face the media. But I hope it’s Monday or Tuesday, and then once the flag goes up, it’s about the golf.
“What we’re trying to do is deliver a major championship, not a circus. And so I would hope that he can avoid that, and everybody can avoid that. And we’re taking golf shots instead of verbal gaffes once we get going.
“But there’s certainly, I think, part of his thinking is, “Am I ready to face that glare and have that conversation and have all the answers that everybody is going to be looking for? And if I do it that week, am I then able to compete on a major championship venue under that kind of pressure with everything going on?’ But we would do everything we can to make it happen either before our week or very early in the week.’’
The “if he’s able to and allowed to’’ line was not expanded upon by Waugh, and the reference is interesting given the speculation over whether or not Mickelson has been suspended by the PGA Tour, which does not publicly disclose discipline.
Waugh also noted the sadness of the situation. Mickelson became the oldest major champion in golf history when he won last year at Kiawah, breaking a 53-year-old record in the process.
The win was his sixth major title and 45th PGA Tour career victory, what could have been a cap to a remarkable 30-year career.
In addition to entering the PGA Championship, Mickelson has entered next month’s U.S. Open. Also, he requested a release from the PGA Tour for the first LIV Golf event outside of London, which begins on June. 9.
“He’s been great for the game for a really long time and I do believe in redemption and I do believe that he can figure this out,’’ Waugh said. “I think he’s got to decide what he wants to be. Does he want to be part of the ecosystem or change the ecosystem? And I think he’s kind of caught in between a little bit.’’