By DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
Phil Mickelson withdrew from the PGA Championship on Friday, opting to extend his hiatus from golf following inflammatory comments he made about a rival Saudi-funded league he supports and the PGA Tour whom he accused of greed.
Mickelson scored one of the most stunning victories last year when he won the PGA at Kiawah Island, becoming at 50 the oldest majors champion in 161 years.
Now the popular phrase from ten years ago – “What will Phil do next?” – carries more intrigue than sheer excitement.
The PGA of America announced its decision on social media. The PGA Championship begins Thursday at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Mickelson hasn’t played since Feb. 6 at Saudi International, where he accused the PGA Tour of “abhorrent greed” in an interview with Golf Digest.
Two weeks later, in an excerpt from Alan Shipnuck’s unauthorized biography to be published next week, Mickelson revealed how he had worked behind the scenes to promote the rival league funded by the Public Investment Fund and run by Greg Norman.
Mickelson dismissed human rights atrocities in Saudi Arabia, including the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it was worth it if it meant gaining influence to secure the changes he wanted on the PGA Tour.
Mickelson met the deadline to enter the PGA Championship on April 25, although his manager said it was more about keeping his options open. He also entered the US Open and said he would request a contentious event exit to play at the LIV Golf Invitational in London, the first of Norman’s $20 million tournaments.
The tour said earlier this week that it would not grant any releases.
Mickelson is the first major champion not to defend his title since Rory McIlroy at St. Andrews in 2015 due to a knee injury while playing football.
He is only the third PGA champion not to defend his title in the past 75 years. Tiger Woods missed in 2008 while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, and Ben Hogan was unable to play in 1949 while recovering from his car hit by a bus.
Mickelson’s problems were self-inflicted.
“Personally, I think it’s an incredible mental challenge to come back and play after what he’s given himself,” six-time major champion and CBS analyst Nick Faldo said Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s as easy as just getting back on the bike and arriving at a golf tournament and playing. The attention is going to be monumental.
Now the focus is on whether Mickelson will challenge the tour by playing in London in three weeks, or whether he will go to the US Open, the only major tournament he has never won.
His last time in America was in Torrey Pines on January 28. He missed the cut.
Shipnuck’s book is slated for release on Tuesday. Among the excerpts he has previously posted on his “Firepit Collective” site, Mickelson said he recruited players to pay lawyers to draft the operating agreement for a new league.
“We know they killed Khashoggi and they have an awful human rights record. They execute people there because they are gay. Knowing all that, why would I even consider it? because it’s a unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour works,” Mickelson said.
He called the PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan a “dictatorship”.
“I’m not even sure I want this to succeed,” he said of the Saudi league. “But just the idea of it allows us to push things forward with the tour.”
Mickelson soon lost corporate sponsors such as KPMG and Amstel Light, while Workday said it would not renew its deal with him. Mickelson released a statement in which he described his comment as “reckless” and apologized for his choice of words.
Mickelson said in his statement that he had felt pressure and stress that affected him on a deeper level over the past 10 years and needed time.
But he did not say if he would take a break from golf. He hasn’t played since the Saudi international on February 6. He’s not playing this week. Her February statement concluded: “I know I haven’t been at my best and I desperately need time to prioritize those I love the most and work to be the man I want. be.”
Mickelson was replaced on the field by former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
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