TULSA, Okla. — While a handful of golf’s biggest stars have expressed their disappointment that reigning champion Phil Mickelson isn’t defending his PGA Championship victory this week, one former champion sounded glad that Mickelson isn’t playing at Southern Hills Country Club.
Dave Stockton, who won the PGA Championship in 1970 and 1976, said Mickelson wasn’t missed at the annual champions dinner earlier this week. About a dozen former PGA champions, including Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa, attended the dinner.
“It was a fun evening. Phil was not missed,” Stockton said. “I think Phil would have been a big distraction whether he was here. The story here this week is the PGA.”
Mickelson, a six-time major champion, informed the PGA of America on Friday that he wouldn’t defend his PGA Championship victory; he became golf’s oldest major champion at age 50 by winning at Kiawah Island in South Carolina last year.
Mickelson, who also won the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol in New Jersey, hasn’t played in a tour event since late January. His absence came after his controversial comments about the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabian financiers of the breakaway LIV Golf Invitational Series were published by author Alan Shipnuck.
Not all players were disappointed that Mickelson wasn’t playing as the defending champion. Tiger Woods distanced himself from his longtime rival’s opinions on the future of professional golf.
Said Jordan Spieth: “His accomplishment last year was insane, one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of the game. So I just think it’s really unfortunate that as the defending champion he’s not here. Hopefully, things can just get back to normal and everybody can kind of get back to the way things were.”