We’ve gone close to three months without seeing Phil Mickelson tee it up, but Lefty is making plans. And that really is “plans,” as opposed to the singular form of the word.
On the one hand, Mickelson is reserving spots in tournaments alongside fellow PGA Tour competitors. On the other, he’s looking to play in tournaments connected to the league setting itself up as a rival to the PGA Tour.
Isn’t this how he got into trouble in the first place? Sort of. Like Mickelson himself, it’s complicated.
Phil Mickelson is signing up for tournaments
Phil Mickelson has not appeared in a stateside tournament since missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open at the end of January. He followed up by playing the Saudi International a week later and then shortly afterward announced he was “taking some time away” following controversial comments he made about the new, Saudi Arabia-funded golf league while also leveling some shots at the PGA Tour.
Mickelson recently registered for the PGA Championship, where he is the defending champion, and the U.S. Open. That’s a formality to reserve his place in the field rather than a commitment to compete. As such, the move was expected.
This week, however, his agent also revealed another move. Mickelson has met the deadline for requesting a release from the PGA Tour to play in the first
LIV Golf Invitational tournament in London from June 9-11. Members seeking to play events outside the PGA Tour must submit requests at least 45 days before the start. The PGA Tour will respond at least 30 days before the start.
And, again, the Mickelson camp is suggesting that no one should read too much into it. “Phil currently has no concrete plans on when and where he will play,” his agent’s statement said.
Count on Phil Mickelson to play both upcoming majors
The PGA Championship is May 19-22 at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. The U.S. Open is June 16-19 at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. Theoretically, the LIV Golf Invitational in London the weekend before the U.S. Open fits into golfers’ schedules.
Whether competitors find it optimal to make a trans-Atlantic trek before Brookline is a different matter. Phil Mickelson and Robert Garrigus are the only two golfers confirming requests for PGA Tour releases to play at Centurion in London, though SI.com reported that 15 top-100 players have applied.
One theory, suggested by Golf.com, is that Mickelson might be less interested in going overseas and more interested in “providing cover” for fellow pros. The PGA Tour won’t deny its members the opportunity to bypass the RBC Canadian Open in favor of the London trip; saying no to a list of players including the winner of six major championships would attract negative publicity.
It likely would also be the impetus for court action, a course of action that Greg Norman and backers of the rival golf league appear eager to pursue.
There is a showdown on the horizon
The June tournament in London kicks off the eight-event LIV Golf Invitational Series, a light version of the broader league that Greg Norman and Saudi investors are trying to launch. Four of the tournaments are in the United States, which is when the real drama starts. Given his recent criticism of the PGA Tour over financial matters, Greg Norman will likely be at the forefront.
The first LIV tournament, July 1-3 in Portland, Oregon, runs opposite the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois. The PGA Tour rules state that members cannot play in another organization’s event in North America if there is a PGA Tour event. Tour officials have suggested lifetime bans are possible, though a fine and suspension is more likely.
Either way, that will certainly be a matter for the courts to decide. Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson (presumably) will argue that the schedules of independent contractors cannot be dictated. The PGA Tour will counter that golfers agree to certain rules necessary to maintain the organization’s health.
At that point, Mickelson and others may have to chose one tour or the other.