News & Opinion

Phil Mickelson emerges as story of week, but too bad he doesn't want to talk about it

Phil Mickelson in 2nd round of 2021 PGA Championship
Phil Mickelson needs few strokes in the 2nd round of the PGA Championship and even fewer words in his post-round news conference Friday at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, which Alex Miceli contends fails to meet the golfer's obligations and ultimately shortchanges golf fans.

PGA Championship leader Mickelson leaves more questions than answers in his post-round interview, which shortchanges golf fans

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Golf is a small and tight-knit community. It’s one in which everyone knows just about everyone else and usually genteel in its interactions, be they among players, manufacturers, executives, officials or media.

Of course, there are times when the normal code of conduct is broken, when someone acts in a way that not only is untoward but the conduct that is so egregious that its needs to be called out for what it is: disgraceful.

Such was the behavior of Phil Mickelson, the second-round leader at the 103rd PGA Championship, on Friday afternoon here at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

Mickelson, who will be 51 next month, is playing in his 644th PGA Tour event, including his 113th major championship, more than anyone else in the field. He has won five of golf’s biggest prizes, including the 2005 PGA Championship.

So, he knows the drill after a round, especially if he should be leading, which he was doing as the morning wave finished play Friday.

Mickelson walked into the interview tent while wearing sunglasses, hiding his face and making him look like a Secret Service agent, and proceeded to answer three questions, plus one brief follow-up.

The number of questions was agreed upon between the PGA of America and Mickelson before he met with the media. The PGA agreed to the demands of the petulant player, who made it clear that he would bolt if his time in the interview tent were not limited to three questions.

Considering that Mickelson was unwilling to grace the media with his presence after Thursday’s first round, the PGA of America was eager to do whatever was required to get Mickelson into the interview tent, even if it meant a three-question interview that lasted exactly four minutes.

What made the conduct even more glaring was the fact that before Mickelson’s drive-by, Padraig Harrington, who played with Mickelson and Jason Day, spent almost 15 minutes speaking with the media. Harrington had shot a 1-over 73, including a bogey on the final hole, the par-4 ninth. Yet, Harrington came into the media tent and thoughtfully answered all questions posed to him, a majority of which were about Mickelson and his game.

After having done this job for so many years, I realize that players rarely want to discuss other players, but Harrington understands that we have a job to do, and that it benefits golf fans, and he tried to help us. It’s an approach that Mickelson clearly has forgotten in his three decades on the PGA Tour.

There have been plenty of times when golfers have shunned the media. Vijay Singh could be squirrelly at times, but rarely when leading a golf tournament.

Jason Dufner could be difficult, too, but that was a long time ago. He was a great interview Thursday as he sees, at age 44, his window of opportunity to win a second major title closing.

As much as I have had my issues with Tiger Woods, he has been one of the best players at talking with the media, regardless of how well he might have played. He provides a quote or two, which ultimately is all that is required, unless a player is on the leaderboard, when responsibilities increase.

Network TV wants some time, then Golf Channel, Sirius XM and, if we’re lucky, print and digital media get their crack.

It’s not an ideal system, but it’s part of the reason why the field this week is playing for what is expected to be an $11 million purse and why the weekly prize fund runs $6 million-$8 million and up.

It’s a system that has provided Mickelson with the opportunity to pocket nearly $92.5 million in PGA Tour career earnings and sign endorsements deal reportedly worth another $400 million.

Mickelson comes across as a happy-go-lucky guy on the golf course, but in reality, his actions on Friday expose exactly who he is: a petulant professional golfer who, as he ages, disrespects the norms of the game. That includes interacting with the media in a responsible manner.

Friday’s media gaggle was not there to ask questions about the proposed Saudi-financed alternate tour, to which Mickelson has been linked, or lob any other zingers. Rather, the talk should have been about his thoughts about how a 50-something golfer who hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in more than two years was leading the PGA Championship after two rounds.

Instead, we got little to nothing, and Mickelson should be ashamed. Instead, it’s more likely that he was amused by his actions, which is even worse.

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