Phil Mickelson: So, what happens now?

Phil Mickelson

So, there we have it - Phil Mickelson is sorry.

The six-time major champion released a 530-word mea culpa late last night in which he apologised for his recent behaviour and comments. 

Mickelson, 51, has positioned himself at the centre of a power struggle between the PGA Tour and the much-anticipated-but-not-yet-announced breakaway circuit funded (in part, at least) by the Saudi Arabian "Public Investment Fund".

The left-hander has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the PGA Tour in what has been perceived by many to be a deliberate, subvertive attempt to legitmise the new venture. 

However, the more he has spoken, the more his fellow players have moved to distance themselves both from the plans and from Phil.

As such, he has found himself become increasingly isolated. Hence, last night's apology. 

More on that here - but now that the apology is out there, what happens next? 

Let's take a look...

* * *

How has Mickelson’s apology been received?

Not well. For the most part, people seem to be of the opinion that it’s less “I’m feeling sorry” and more “I’m feeling sorry for myself”. Brandel Chamblee, who has been a vocal critic of Mickelson throughout this entire episode, pulled no punches.

Former European Tour pro Tony Johnstone was equally unimpressed.

Ewen Murray, the Sky Sports Golf commentator, added this:

Our poll of our own Twitter followers has also proven to be interesting...

We don’t know if Phil wrote the statement himself (unlikely) or had some help from a PR firm but whoever is responsible got it very badly wrong.

You'll aksi notice that two words were conspicuous by their absence from his apology: "PGA Tour". Interesting.

Is Phil suspended from the PGA Tour?

Good question and one that we’re unlikely to get an answer to. The PGA Tour has a long-standing (and infamous) policy of not commenting publicly on disciplinary matters. ‘Hear no evil, see no evil’ and so on. However, their silence only invites suspicion. Consider the final part of this tweet last night by Golf Digest’s man-on-tour Dan Rapaport.

If Phil’s not suspended, what does the PGA Tour stand to gain by allowing people to think he is?

On what grounds could he be suspended?

The PGA Tour Player Handbook has the answer to that. It explains that the tour’s ‘Policy Board’ reserves the right to suspend or even expel players from the tour “if, in the judgment of the policy board, the member commits a serious breach of the Tournament Regulations, the PGA Tour’s 'Code of Ethics' or otherwise conducts himself in a manner unbecoming of a professional golfer.” 

That leaves a certain amount of grey area and ample room for subjectivity but considering the incendiary nature of his remarks in recent weeks – about the tour, its commissioner Jay Monahan, LIV Golf Investments and Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights – you’d have to think Mickelson is, at best, flirting with serious trouble.

What do Mickelson’s sponsors think of all this?

Shortly after his apology dropped, KPMG announced that it was cutting ties with the left-hander, ending a relationship that dates back 14 years. At the time of posting, his other sponsors – Workday, Callaway, Rolex, Mizzen + Main, Amstel Light, Intrepid Financial Partners, VistaJet and Melin – had not made any announcements of their own… but that’s not to say they won’t.

About those comments to Shipnuck. Phil says they were off the record…

And Alan maintains they were not. Here’s the deal: Alan Shipnuck is one of the best in the business. Formidable and, just as importantly, fair. You don’t spend a quarter of a century at Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine without being able to make the distinction between what’s off the record and what’s on it. That’s Journalism 101. Alan has also done a fascinating Q&A on the Fire Pit Collection website in which he addresses some of Phil’s claims. 

This bit is particularly interesting: “Not once in our texts or when we got on the phone did Mickelson request to go off-the-record and I never consented to it; if he had asked, I would have pushed back hard, as this was obviously material I wanted for the book. Mickelson simply called me up and opened a vein. To claim now that the comments were off-the-record is false and duplicitous.”

The Masters is coming up. Phil’s a two-time champion. Will we see him there? 

Who knows? If he is indeed suspended by the PGA Tour and it extends beyond Augusta, he could feasibly still play in The Masters given that it is self-governing and not run by the tour. Equally, the Augusta National chiefs might ask him to sit it out so as not to distract from their tournament. 

There is, of course, the possibility that Phil is not suspended and genuinely does want to step away from the game from the time being, which, again, may or may not extend beyond The Masters. All of which is to say, we’ve absolutely no idea.

And what about his US PGA title defence?

That’s three months away. If he doesn’t show up for that, we’ll eat our hats.

What does this do for the Saudi Golf League?

What Saudi Golf League? Remember, at this moment in time, the whole thing is just a bunch of rumours and social media chatter. Nothing has been confirmed. No schedule, no prize money, no players, no name. Granted, the rumours have been intensifying and “there’s no smoke without fire” etc but it would appear as though Mickelson running his mouth off has done more harm than good to the SGL proposals. 

And what about Phil’s legacy?

It’s in tatters. Simple as that. Bear in mind, this is a guy who has won six majors, is a reigning major champion and the oldest major winner in history. He’s won 45 times on the PGA Tour (only seven players have won more) and is the second-highest earner in tour history. As we’ve noted on this site before, had Tiger Woods never been born, there’s a real chance Mickelson would have been the most dominant player of the last 30 years and be mentioned in “Greatest Of All Time” discussions. 

As a golfer, his record speaks for itself – at least it would if he would let it.

His “Mr Nice Guy” reputation has been slowly unravelling ever since he publicly admonished Tom Watson in the wake of the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. His mask, if you like, has started to slip.

Again, consider this tweet from Dan Rapaport:

Has it been an act all along? The fact that people are even asking the question is extremely telling. 

This, from Rapaport’s Golf Digest colleague Alex Myers, sums it all up brilliantly.

Phil Mickelson - hero to zero. 

Who would have thought?

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