PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said he hasn’t spoken to Phil Mickelson since his explosive comments about the tour were published last month, but Monahan said it’s a conversation that will have to take place before the six-time major champion returns to play.
Mickelson isn’t playing in the Players Championship this week at TPC Sawgrass after announcing two weeks ago that he was taking time away from golf “to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”
Mickelson, 51, caused an uproar last month with his comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian financiers of the Super Golf League. Mickelson described the Saudis as “scary” but said he was looking past their controversial history of human rights violations to gain leverage with the PGA Tour.
“I think that as it relates to Phil, you said it: The ball is in his court,” Monahan said during a news conference Tuesday. “He has said that he’s stepping away and he wants time for reflection. That’s something that I and we are going to respect and honor. When he’s ready to come back to the PGA Tour, we’re going to have that conversation. That’s a conversation I look forward to.”
Monahan didn’t wait for reporters’ questions about the proposed breakaway league. He addressed it at the start of his opening statement, which included a veiled remark about Mickelson’s comment that he didn’t care if the SGL succeeded and was only using it as leverage against the PGA Tour.
“The PGA Tour is moving on,” Monahan said. “We have too much momentum and too much to accomplish to be consistently distracted by rumors of other golf leagues and their attempts to disrupt our players, our partners and most importantly our fans from enjoying the tour and the game we all love so much.
“I am grateful for the strong support our top players have shown recently and publicly, and I’m extremely proud that we’ve turned the conversation around to focus on what we do best: delivering world-class golf tournaments with the best players to the best fans, all while positively impacting the communities in which we play. We are and we always will be focused on legacy, not leverage.”
Monahan wouldn’t specifically comment about whether Mickelson has been suspended or might face discipline when and if he decides to return to the tour. The PGA Tour doesn’t announce discipline, although some players, including Rory McIlroy, have asked for more transparency when it comes to suspensions and bans.
“He stepped away on his own accord, and he’s asked for time,” Monahan said. “He’s been given that time. We don’t comment on disciplinary matters, potential matters or actual matters. But every player is accountable for their actions out here.”
It seemed that Monahan hadn’t entirely ruled out allowing Mickelson to return. He has repeatedly said that any PGA Tour player who competed in a rival league would face immediate suspension and a potential lifetime ban.
During a phone call with author Alan Shipnuck, who wrote an upcoming biography of Mickelson, the 2021 PGA Champion reportedly said he enlisted other players to help him have lawyers write an operating agreement for the SGL.
“I would welcome a phone call from him,” Monahan said. “But it’s hard for me to talk about the different scenarios that could play out. Listen, he’s a player that’s won 45 times on the PGA Tour. He’s had a Hall of Fame career. He’s won here at the Players Championship. He’s inspired a lot of people and helped grow this tour, his tour. So, as difficult as it is to read some of the things that were said, ultimately a conversation will be had when he’s ready to have it, and I will be ready to have it, as well.”
Several of Mickelson’s longtime sponsors, including KPMG, Workday and Amstel Light, ended their relationships with him. Another longtime sponsor, Callaway, paused its relationship with him, while The American Express tournament in La Quinta, California, announced it will no longer have Mickelson as its host and the event won’t benefit his foundation.
“I just think it’s more of what he wants,” Justin Thomas said. “If he wants to try to come back and play X-amount of events or if he wants to try to create his own thing, if he wants to do whatever he’s got to do, nobody knows what’s going on inside of Phil’s head beside Phil, and I think the last couple weeks have proven that more than ever.”
Among other things, Mickelson accused the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed.” In a letter to Monahan, former World No. 1 player Greg Norman, who is CEO of LIV Golf Investments, accused the tour of bullying and threatening players who might want to compete in both circuits.
“I think people know me and they know how I play and how we operate and the values that we stand for, and I don’t think there’s any question that that’s not how I operate,” Monahan said. “I haven’t had a lot of people ask me about it because people know me. I’m right here.”
McIlroy said he didn’t believe the Super Golf League is much of a threat anymore because most of golf’s top players, including Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and others, have pledged their loyalty to the PGA Tour. Many of those players made announcements at last month’s Genesis Invitational, which seemed to put the Saudi-financed league on life support.
“I’ve heard nothing since, so I don’t know,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, I don’t know where they stand. But it seems like pretty much every top player in the world, especially the younger guys, the guys that you really need to get something like that off the ground, they all want to play here, and they’ve stated their intention, and that’s what it is.”
Monahan said the PGA Tour was ready to move on.
“I think I’ve said this before: I wake up every day assuming someone is trying to take my lunch,” he said. “That’s the way I operate. That’s the way we operate as a team. But we’re here at the Players Championship. The best players in the world have told you how they feel. … I’m not looking over my shoulder, I’m looking forward.”