When Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, he became the oldest golfer to win a major. He was 51 years and 11 months old, breaking the previous record, set in 1968 when Julius Boros, aged 48, won the same tournament.
With the 2022 edition of the tournament taking place at Southern Hills, many were looking forward to seeing Mickelson take to the grass in Tulsa, Oklahoma. However, the veteran golfer withdrew from the tournament, and the chance to defend his crown, due to an ongoing controversy after he voiced support for a group looking to reinvent the golfing calendar.
It’s the first time Mickelson has missed the tournament since 1992, a shame for many punters who would have been eager to check a betting exchange for Mickelson’s odds. The last time the defending champion didn’t take part was in 2008, when Tiger Woods was recovering from a knee operation that ended his season.
Mickelson hasn’t featured in a tournament since February, and also missed the Masters in April for the first time in 28 years. His isolation arose from comments he made about a potential shake-up of the sport.
The proposed change was a Formula One-style tour, which would see players travel the world in a golfing super league. The changes have been controversial since they were first made public. Many in the game don’t see the need for such a shakeup. Furthermore, the plans are backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The Middle Eastern country’s human rights record has been brought up on numerous occasions, in relation to the plans. Mickelson admitted that he finds the Saudi regime “scary” when talking to author Alan Shipnuck, but has continued to support the project, insisting that the PGA Tour needs to be refreshed. The golfer has also acknowledged that Saudi Arabia has a “horrible record on human rights”.
Mickelson asked the PGA Tour for permission to compete in the new breakaway tournament, dubbed the LIV Golf Invitational Series, but he was denied permission. Mickelson isn’t the only high-profile player on the tour to back the venture, with Englishman Lee Westwood also turned down after applying to take part.
However, Mickelson’s position is indicative of a wider schism on the tour. Tiger Woods described the veteran’s comments as “polarising” and, while some golfers seem to agree with Mickelson that the sport is in need of a refresh, Woods didn’t.
When Woods faced the press ahead of the PGA Championship, he spoke at length about Mickelson’s absence. When pressed for comment about his own position on the matter, he went on to praise the historic nature of the tour. He said: “I understand different viewpoints, but I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past.”
He continued in that vein, saying: “There’s plenty of money out here. The tour is growing. But it’s just like any other sport, you have to go out there and earn it.”
While Mickelson isn’t alone in his criticism of the sport at present, it’s also the case that many golfers are happy with the current state of the tour, as Woods’ remarks indicate. Mickelson’s absence from the PGA Championship may have brought the argument about golf’s future under a brighter spotlight, but the veteran golfer’s comments are just one small part of the ongoing argument about the future of sport.