The Saudi fallout continues to rip apart golf’s landscape. It was announced on Friday night announced that Phil Mickelson will continue his break from the game and will not defend his USPGA title at Southern Hills next week.
Telegraph Sport reported last month it was highly likely the 51-year-old would miss the year’s second major, but hopes had grown in the last week that he would be in Tulsa at the event in which last year he made history as a 50-year-old by becoming the oldest ever winner of a major.
Yet after Seth Waugh, the chief executive of PGA of America, had expressed his wish that his major “would not become a media circus”, Mickelson scratched in the 11th hour, continuing his absence from the fairways that now stretches to more than three months in the wake of his support of the breakaway circuit at the same time as calling the Saudis “scary motherf—– to deal with”.
“We have just been informed that Phil Mickelson has withdrawn from the PGA Championship,” the PGA of America said in a statement. “Phil is the defending champion… and we would have welcomed him to participate. We wish Phil and Amy [his wife] the very best and look forward to his return to golf.”
Regardless of the statement – Augusta National said the same last month when Mickelson missed his first Masters in 28 years – the news will inevitably increase the suspicion he is serving a ban on the PGA Tour and that the PGA of America is honouring the suspension.
Mickelson confessed in that extraordinary interview with biographer Alan Shipnuck he had actually paid for attorneys to draw up a players’ charter. That represents more than enough in the PGA Tour constitution to warrant a ban. He also was well aware of Saudi Arabia’s “horrible record on human rights”, including the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, but was using the threat of a breakaway to “reshape” how the Tour operates.
The US circuit does not reveal its punishments so the sport will carry on in the dark. Speculation will also grow that Mickelson will next be seen in the first $25million event of the Kingdom-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series – the Saudi rebel circuit – in Hertfordshire next month.
Again, Telegraph Sport reported that this was probable and that he had signed up for all eight events in the $255million series. What is certain is that the USPGA will be weaker without the swashbuckling left-hander who 12 months ago redefined what was possible for a veteran golfer.
It is remarkable how the Saudis have affected the sport in such a short time, although their pledge to invest $2billion over three years was always going to create more than mere ripples.