Fears are growing in the game’s corridors of power that Phil Mickelson has already signed up to play in all eight events of the LIV Golf Invitational Series and that it will be the 51-year-old who will be the face of the likely court battle if and when the PGA Tour issues bans.
Mickelson has sought a release from the US circuit for the $25 million LIV opener in St Albans in six weeks’ time and sources say that as he has received $30m up front, the six-time major winner must either appear in each of the tournaments or pay back a percentage and probably a penalty.
Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, will likely grant permission for his pros to play in Hertfordshire, but has no wriggle room when it comes to the next LIV event – in Portland, Oregon in the first week of July – that is starting a three -tournament US swing,.
The Tour bye-laws state that members are not allowed to play in a conflicting event on North American soil and Monahan will not be permitted to give anyone the green light. Cue the lawyers.
Mickelson has not played since the Saudi International in February and it is believed that, soon after, he was to feature in the grand launch by Greg Norman, the LIV chief executive. However, the plans to herald a 10-event league were scrapped at the 11th hour when Mickelson’s rant to his biographer Alan Shipnuck was released.
As well as accusing Monahan of “running a dictatorship”, he also called the Saudis “scary motherf—– to be involved with” and declared that he was only able to ignore their “horrid human rights record” because of the leverage they afforded him in his media rights battle with the Tour.
Mickelson issued an apology, but pointedly did not signal any contrition towards the PGA Tour or Monahan, himself. Mickelson then went into an indefinite break, saying “he would work on being the man I want to be” and nothing has been heard of him in public since, including at the Masters, the major he missed for the first time in 28 years.
Bryson DeChambeau, another long-time Saudi target, revealed that he had texted his friend but there had been no reply. “He’s gone dark,” DeChambeau said.
Maybe he had, but Mickelson was certainly in touch with Norman during this period, who announced that “the door is still open” for the left-hander. It now seems the offer became rather more concrete. From open door to open check book.
Steve Loy, Mickelson’s manager, did not have to reveal that his client had submitted his release request on Monday night. After all, apart from world No 1,043 Robert Garrigus, nobody else admitted to it. Telegraph Sport revealed that Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter had put in their forms, as well as world No. 15 Louis Oosthuizen. On Tour it is figured that Mickelson was making another statement with Loy’s statement.
Monday was also the deadline to commit to the US PGA, the season’s second major in which Mickelson made history last year as the game’s oldest major winner. The PGA of America are understood not to be impressed in their defending champion entering the Saudi $25m event at the same time and in the same press release. The developing consensus is that Mickelson might sit out Southern Hills and reappear at the Centurion, ensuring huge interest in the curtain-raiser.
With the majority of his sponsors walking away in the wake of his comments to Shipnuck. Mickelson suddenly had a $30m hole in his yearly finances. The Saudis would have been more than happy to fill it as Norman scrambled to put together his eight-strong schedule.
If this is how the saga does transpire then one top pro who will be disappointed is world No 2 Jon Rahm. The Spaniard was coached in college by Mickelson’s brother, Tim, and has long looked up to golf’s great showman.
On Tuesday Rahm expressed his hope that Mickelson “can rectify this situation” and save his legacy, indicating that, if this was possible, he would need to distance himself from the Saudis. “It has to come from him,” Rahm told Sky Sports.
Meanwhile, the R&A announced that 1.3 million people had applied for tickets for the 150th Open at St Andrews in July and that it expected a crowd of 290,000. That would smash the record mark of 239,000, set at the Home of Golf in 2000 when Tiger Woods won his first Claret Jug. As a former champion who is under 60, Mickelson is assured a berth.