Column: Mickelson might not have time he needs to recover
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Phil Mickelson was one of the louder voices on the Ryder Cup Task Force that reshaped the American blueprint and created so much continuity it was easy to predict the next captain.
Zach Johnson, a four-time Ryder Cup player and a vice captain on the previous two teams, is the choice for the 2023 matches in Italy.
That was easy.
The next choice for Bethpage Black in 2025 should have been just as predictable, except that now it isn’t.
All signs had pointed to Mickelson.
Never mind that Mickelson is a six-time major champion who has been part of every Ryder Cup team since 1995, before Collin Morikawa was even born. New York loves Mickelson despite — or maybe because of — his five close calls in the majors, two of them at Bethpage.
Lovable Lefty has an entirely different reputation.
Becoming golf’s oldest major champion at age 50 by winning the PGA Championship now seems a lot longer than nine months ago. Fresh on the mind are his comments to longtime golf writer Alan Shipnuck, who is writing an unauthorized biography on Mickelson.
While flirting with a Saudi-funded rival league, Mickelson referred to the Saudis as “scary mother(expletives) to get involved with.”
“We know they killed (Washington Post reporter Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights,” Mickelson was quoted as saying. “They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
He also said he didn’t care if the rival league succeeded as long as it provided him leverage against the “dictatorship” of Commissioner Jay Monahan and the PGA Tour.
If that wasn’t enough, Mickelson said he and three other top players paid attorneys to write the operating agreement for the rival league.
Four of his corporate partners — KPMG, American Express, Amstel Light and Workday — no longer want to work with him. Callaway Golf said it was pausing the relationship.
As for the Ryder Cup?
Johnson was prepared for the topic when he was introduced as captain on Monday. The four times he was asked about Mickelson as a vice captain, or the threat of the Saudi league Mickelson has promoted, Johnson offered a vague response about unknowns and hypotheticals.
Repeatedly asked about Mickelson in a Sky Sports interview, Johnson offered little more than to say without elaboration, “Phil Mickelson is a friend of mine.”
The last anyone has heard from Mickelson was a 500-word statement a week ago that only made him look more self-absorbed. The statement contained the words “apologize” once and “sorry” twice. He never mentioned Monahan or the PGA Tour. He said his only motivation was for the good of the game and the players, even if it meant being the fall guy.
It was a fall, all right.
Mickelson mentioned the pressure and stress of the last 10 years and said that he “desperately” need time away. And that’s the problem as he tries to recover from the mess he created.
Time is what Mickelson doesn’t have.
The swift and stunning downfalls of Mickelson and Tiger Woods are nothing alike except for the damage to their public image. Woods sabotaged his personal life. Mickelson tried to sabotage the tour that made him rich and famous.
Woods was 33 and at the peak of his game when he was exposed for having multiple extramarital affairs at the end 2009. Four years later, he was voted PGA Tour player of the year for the 11th time. Then, after four back surgeries that left him fearful he might never play golf again, he won the 2019 Masters for his 15th major title.
It was as much a comeback as redemption. Woods is as popular as ever. Once revered among his peers, he now is adored by them.
Mickelson is 51, and friends inside the ropes suddenly are hard to find.
While his PGA victory at Kiawah Island last May was historic, Lefty is beyond the twilight of his career. In his 12 starts on the PGA Tour since then, he has missed the cut five times and finished among the top 25 just once — a tie for 17th in a limited-field event.
He also has four wins on the PGA Tour Champions. But while the 50-and-over league is as competitive as ever, it’s not the road to recovery.
Time can heal wounds. Unknown is how deep these go and if more will follow.
Shipnuck’s book is due to be released in May. Another book is planned for the fall by noted sports gambler Billy Walters, with whom Mickelson was linked in an insider trading episode. It ended with Mickelson, a relief defendant, repaying the government the $1 million he made in the stock deal and Walters going to prison.
The next Ryder Cup in Italy is 19 months away. Bethpage Black is two years after that, and given how Woods will now play a limited schedule at best, he makes the most sense as the U.S. captain in 2025.
Where does Mickelson fit in?
That depends how quickly he can recover, if at all.