(BVM) – Over the past three decades, Phil Mickelson has been one of the most prominent figures in professional golf. The six-time major winner has long been a fan favorite thanks to his interactions with the gallery, and his often aggressive and thrilling style of play on the course.
However, 2022 was an entirely different year for both Mickelson and his fans. Off the course, the golfer made continual headlines as golf’s newest league, the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, finally got its start. While he has often been criticized for his support of the league, many other notable names such as Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, followed Mickelson to the new tour.
Ultimately, LIV Golf’s inaugural season was a success, and brought a new feel to the world of professional golf. Yet, that hasn’t limited the controversy between both tours and their players. Just last week, LIV Golfer Patrick Reed and PGA Tour star Rory McIlroy had a conflict on the driving range prior to the Dubai Desert Classic.
More fuel continues to be added to the fire, and recently, some of that came from Mickelson. After a tweet was posted by @flushingitgolf suggesting that an event between LIV and the PGA Tour with Mickelson and his longtime rival Tiger Woods as captains, Mickelson chimed in with a reply.
“It sounds great, but we would dominate them so soundly and it would be over so quick that TV would have to fill an hour of dead time,” Mickelson said. “That’s why it’s not happening at this time.”
Phil is so incredibly back. pic.twitter.com/N7q5U1bB0B
— Dan Rapaport (@Daniel_Rapaport) February 2, 2023
At this point, as entertaining as a matchup between PGA Tour stars and LIV golfers would be, it’s not very feasible. While Mickelson – who had been on a brief social media hiatus to start the new year – was likely intending to be humorous, the statement was one that certainly garnered attention, and brought light to the continued rivalry the two leagues have growing.
Not only was 2022 a unique season for Mickelson because of the headlines surrounding LIV Golf, but it was also one of the first years in recent memory where he just didn’t play well at any point.
“I have to look at last year as an anomaly and just let it go,” Mickelson said about last year in a media availability on Tuesday prior to the PIF Saudi International. “I wasn’t ready to play at the start. I wasn’t ready to play during [the season].
“I’m embarrassed with how I played last year. I’m going to put that behind me and have a really good year.”
Mickelson’s best finish in LIV’s first season was tied for eighth at Rich Harvest Farms in Chicago in September. Outside of a tie for 15th in the following event in Bangkok, Mickelson finished no higher than 33rd on the leaderboard in LIV Golf’s other six events with a field that featured less than 50 players. When it came to his two major championship appearances at the U.S. Open and The Open Championship, Mickelson missed the cut both times.
Phil Mickelson just four-putted the sixth. Now has 14 putts through six holes. Not such a happy birthday.
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelTAN) June 16, 2022
At 52 years old, no one is necessarily expecting Mickelson to return to the form of his prime. However, he shocked everyone in 2021 when he won the PGA Championship at Kiawah at age 50, and with exemptions into each of the four major championships over the next three years, Mickelson is trying to put himself in position to hunt down more major titles.
“I’m in every major for the next three years and I think I have a chance to win one or two more and create these accomplishments that haven’t been done at this stage,” Mickelson said in a Q&A with Sports Illustrated golf writer Bob Harig last month. “I feel like I can duplicate Kiawah.”
— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) May 24, 2021
Ahead of his appearance at the PIF Saudi International this week, Mickelson revealed his plan to get back to a winning level, one of which is getting his body right, as he noted that he is back to his “college weight.”
“I have a whole different energy, whole different excitement,” Mickelson said. “I’ve been rejuvenated. Best shape I’ve been in in a long time. I’m back to my college weight.”
“It allows me to recover faster after I play. I’m changing some of the ways I practice to be more efficient. Rather than quantity, it’s much more quality driven, and I’m seeing a difference when I go out and play in the way I am kind of pulling the shots off on the golf course.”
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) January 31, 2023
Mickelson went on to miss the cut at the PIF Saudi International, but he did shoot a respectable 1-over-par across his two rounds in Saudi Arabia.
Soon, “Lefty” will get ready to tee it up in the new LIV Golf season, with play beginning Feb. 24 as the tour heads to El Camaleon Golf Club at Mayakoba in Mexico. LIV will play 14 events in 2023 compared to eight last season, giving Mickelson some more chances at success this time around.
It also seems likely we see Mickelson in all four majors this season, beginning with the Masters held April 6-9 at Augusta National, as the six-time major winner looks to add a fourth green jacket to his collection.
Ultimately, it’s tough to say exactly what to expect out of Mickelson in 2023. Will he make more headlines off the course surrounding the controversy between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour? Will he take home a win in a LIV Golf event? Could he be in the mix on Sunday in a major?
After last season, it’s tough to envision Mickelson in contention once again, at least early in the season. However, he has proved doubters wrong before, especially at Kiawah two years ago. With a new mindset, regimen and new-found competitiveness, Mickelson seems poised for better things in 2023.
“I’ve been playing really well at home, and I’m ready to bring my game back out here and compete,” Mickelson said on Tuesday. “I’m optimistic to see a whole different outlook, a whole different game, a whole different competitiveness.”