Phil Mickelson’s latest words show he’s changing his LIV approach

Phil Mickelson spoke to reporters at LIV’s event in Tucson.

LIV media

What does Phil Mickelson think?

This has been one of the most interesting questions in golf for the past 13 months. Mickelson’s provocative public rhetoric first spilled over last February when he emerged golf digest‘s John Huggan on the PGA Tour’s “insufferable greed.” Two weeks later, he made international headlines after Alan Shipnuck published a book excerpt in which Mickelson called LIV’s Saudi supporters “scary m—–f——”. What did he think then when LIV’s future was suddenly in jeopardy?

This pair of two words haunted him in the months that followed. What was Mickelson thinking when he took a leave of absence from professional golf and was quietly suspended from the PGA Tour? What was he thinking as he sat at home during Masters Week and missed golf’s biggest tournament for the first time in 28 years? What was he thinking as he skipped his PGA Championship title defense a year after one of golf’s most notable victories? What was he thinking as LIV celebrated its controversial launch with Mickelson as their poster child?

Fast forward a year and we have many more questions for Mickelson. What does he think of the changes the PGA Tour has made in his absence? What about his old friends at the USGA?

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This latest version of Mickelson took the mic ahead of LIV’s Tucson event earlier this week. He’s significantly slimmer now than last summer when he reappeared at LIV London and then the US Open. He is clean-shaven. And as he spoke, it became clear that the Hy Flyers captain now takes a different path: reserved, outgoing, even deferential.

What does he think of the USGA’s landmark proposal to roll the ball back?

“I haven’t researched that,” Mickelson said. “I haven’t looked into it. I haven’t really looked at the data, so I don’t really have an opinion on it at the moment.”

No opinion?! Phil Mickelson? This is the same guy who’s railed on everything from taxes to joggers.

Okay, how about the tour changes? Last summer, Mickelson couldn’t resist trying to win the tour’s prize money: “It’s great that they magically found a few hundred million; that’s great,” he said. This time? He voiced his praise.

“I think it’s really a good thing. I’m happy to see it. I’m excited to see it for the tour,” he said. “I think there will always be a need and a desire for traditional golf. And there is always an opportunity to innovate and allow LIV to be additive and create something new and different for the game of golf.”

That’s an interesting focus. LIV CEO Greg Norman has been using the word additive since the league debuted last summer, but for months it felt like LIV was challenging the tour for world domination, period. LIV presents Mickelson’s language here as an alternative and complement rather than as a direct competitor.

Still, Mickelson couldn’t resist sneaking up on the tour, implying they had copied elements from LIV’s model.

“I also think that the changes produce the best players more often,” he said. “I think that’s what the fans and the sponsors want. They want to know what they’re buying and that’s all stuff that LIV has provided to their sponsors and TV etc. I think it’s a good model to follow and I’m glad they are.”

I think it’s a good model to follow and I’m glad they are.

Phil Mickelson of the new PGA Tour schedule

One reporter pitched the idea that if the tour had made their changes a year earlier, LIV would never have happened. We’d like to know what Mickelson thinks of this; It’s no secret that he’s a longtime advocate for star power-focused downsizing on the PGA Tour. But even here he remained positive.

“Then I’m grateful it didn’t happen a year ago,” he said. “I’m really pleased with the way LIV has brought new changes to the game. Because that team aspect is something that we really never saw as an opportunity in golf until LIV came along.”

Mickelson felt energized by that aspect, he said. He liked the camaraderie.

A welcome byproduct of his 2021 PGA championship win is that Mickelson will be exempt from major championships for years to come. And while he missed several Majors last season, that probably won’t be the case this year. Again he refused to poke the bear.

“We’re all grateful to be able to compete in the Masters and all the Majors because there’s been a lot of talk that might not happen,” he said. “But here we are able to do that and we’re all grateful for that too.”

There were many questions about the excitement at the Champions Dinner and the overall dynamic of LIV vs. Tour. But “grateful” doesn’t sound combative. Grateful sounds respectful.

“No expectations,” he added. “We’re grateful that we can just play and compete and be a part of it. A lot of the guys there who play and compete at the Masters have been friends for decades and I look forward to seeing them again.”

Mickelson also leaned towards the idea that LIV could change. He teased the idea of ​​changing his events from 54 to 72 holes to appease the official world golf rankings, a notable possibility since 54 – LIV in Roman numerals – is literally the name of the tour. Mickelson used the word “fluidity” repeatedly.

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There were still marks from the chip resting on Mickelson’s shoulder; It’s clear he’s eager to prove he was right about some things. “We were told, well, we’re not going to have a TV deal. Well, we have a TV deal with 120 million homes and that’s just in the US,” he said.

When asked about players like Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau, he went that line again. Grateful – and confirmed.

“We’ve been told LIV will never get the top players and gosh we have so many top players in the world it’s a quality product and we’re all grateful for that. Just one more thing for which we are all grateful.”

And his new look? It was probably there that Mickelson spoke most freely. He emphasized that he’s been putting wellness at the forefront of his lifestyle lately. He pays more attention to what he puts into his body.

“I’m trying to allow myself to recover and get in better shape and eat less, curb my appetite,” he said. He expressed regret that he didn’t make those changes sooner — “I don’t like to look back and be like, ‘What if I did that?'” he said — but better late than never.

“Here I am today taking on a lot more responsibility and allowing myself to play and compete at a much higher level than many people of that age could.”

There is no doubt about it. Where there are still unanswered questions is the future of LIV and how it intends to position itself. We haven’t heard much from Norman lately, leaving us with Mickelson’s words, which are close to official LIV policy. Is LIV playing nice on purpose? Or is this Mickelson trying to lower the temperature in the room, for his own good and the good of his league?

We still don’t necessarily know what Mickelson is thinking. But we hear what he says, and it’s revealing nonetheless.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ A Williamstown, Mass. native, he joined GOLF in 2017 after two years of tussling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he studied English, and is the author of 18 in Americawhich describes the year he lived off his car as an 18-year-old and played a round of golf in every state.


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