The absence of three-time champion Phil Mickelson was barely acknowledged by the CBS broadcast crew during the Masters in April.
Is it true that what is out of sight is also out of mind? Mickelson’s personal leave of absence was well-received. He’s a larger-than-life personality in the game, and his ardent fans’ backing was never more clear than when a scene straight out of a Lollapalooza concert nearly propelled him to victory at the PGA Championship in Kiawah at the age of 50.
On the eve of the 104th PGA Championship, with just seven days till Mickelson defends his title at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it’s still uncertain if he’ll play or address the media. Mickelson has been missing in action since February 22, when he said that he needed time away to “prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”
In addition to the obvious of his title defense and the fact that Mickelson hasn’t teed it up on the PGA Tour since January (he played the Saudi International in February) or been heard from since losing almost all of his sponsors, Alan Shipnuck’s unauthorized biography of Mickelson will be released next Tuesday. CBS can no longer ignore the Mickelson storyline. Or can it?
During a media conference call on Wednesday, I asked CBS’s Jim Nantz an open-ended question: What advise would he give to Phil?
I’d never seen Nantz do anything like this before. The voice of CBS Sports, a man capable of waxing rhapsodic on almost any subject linked to the game and who has had a close relationship with Mickelson for three decades, stiff-armed the question. He confirmed speaking with Mickelson and stated that he would keep their talk private.
But, since we journalists are relentless, Nantz was asked about Mickelson again later, and this time he spoke a little more, calling it “a purely personal decision” and concluded that Mickelson will return at some point, though he didn’t say when. “Sometimes we get caught up in the story’s storm and believe it will go forever. It won’t last indefinitely. “He’ll be back, he’ll play, and he’ll have a lot of admirers,” Nantz added. “This is a forgiving country, and there are a million examples of people rising to the top again, and I fully anticipate him to do so one day.”
Nick Faldo, Nantz’s co-host in the booth, was more open about sharing his thoughts, although still skirting around the topic of whether Mickelson should participate in the PGA. Mickelson’s sheer existence would make him the most interesting topic, and Faldo expressed concern that he could struggle to find the right mindset to put up a fight in his title defense.
“I believe he would like playing,” Faldo stated. “I believe it’s an incredible mental struggle for him to come back and play after what he’s been through, plain and simple.” I don’t believe it will be as simple as getting back on the bike and riding to a golf event and playing. The media interest will be enormous. I’m not sure he’ll be mentally prepared for that.”