Phil Mickelson influenced golf LIV

Phil Mickelson stepped into the microphone at the US Open for the first press conference for the rest of his life looking like a pale shadow of his old self. His eyes were even more wide, and shards of his gray beard littered his cheeks. Where he once squabbled with the media as if he was seeking a debate team prize, he was now dodging thorny questions with quirks, quirks, and no concise answers. He wasn’t nervous – Phil Mickelson wasn’t nervous – but he clearly didn’t enjoy this Inquisition.

Mickelson was removed a week after his return to public life, three months after he posted comments that sent him into golf exile. Less than 48 hours before the press conference, he received a $150,000 check for three days at the inaugural LIV Golf course, the first stop on a junior tour that promised him $200 million in appearance fees. So, he upended his 30-year relationship with the PGA Tour and saw sponsors flee.

“Nice to be back,” he said in an opening statement. “It’s been four months. It has been a necessary time and opportunity for me to step away a little and think a little and think about the way forward and how to better prioritize things.”

Mickelson returns to the United States as a notable man. His decision to join the LIV is an indelible part of his story now, as is his track boldness and 3-inch vertical. He’s chosen money over legacy, and he’s about to find out exactly what that means for his fans.

Mickelson said, “As for whether or not the fans are leaving, I respect and understand their opinions, and I understand that they have strong feelings and strong emotions regarding this choice, and I certainly respect and admire them. I respect that.”

“Respect” – as in respecting the opinions of fans, critical media, and other players – was the topic of the day for Mickelson. He never uttered any form of “apology,” “sorry,” or “repentant,” but “respect” appeared 16 different times in the 25-minute conference. Mickelson, in fact, was saying that everyone had a right to their opinions…but he made up his mind.

He used a similar tactic – spreading the words “sympathy” and “sympathy” – when answering questions about 9/11 families criticizing his decision to take money from a Saudi-backed foundation.

“I think I speak for pretty much every American in that we feel our deepest sympathy and deepest sympathy for those who lost loved ones and friends on 9/11,” he said. “It affected all of us, and those who were directly affected…I can’t stress enough how sympathetic I am to them.” Unnamed: No response to their fatal contempt for his career.

There was an air of regret swirling around the day, feeling that Mickelson might have unleashed something he couldn’t control, with consequences he couldn’t predict. He didn’t quit his PGA Tour membership, after all, and he seems very proud to point out that he achieved the highest honor on the tour.

“I’ve given as much money to the PGA Tour and golf as I could in my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course, I’ve earned a lifetime membership,” he said. “I intend to keep that and then choose to go forward with the events I will be playing and not the events.”

Phil Mickelson ponders a question at a press conference Monday at The Country Club in Brooklyn, Massachusetts, ahead of the US Open golf tournament. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

This idea – that he will be in control, that he will be the one to choose where to play next, regardless of obligations, rules, expectations or beliefs – defines Mickelson. He never wants to be told what to do – he doesn’t want to be told what he can’t do – and so he can’t make sense of a world he can’t somehow speak the way back to which everyone is a good blessing.

Mickelson paused a few times before answering the questions, perhaps a wise play given how many people involved with LIV have had problems with careless quotes before. One stop was particularly interesting. When asked if he would be at peace with never competing on the PGA Tour again, he took the longest silence of the day, perhaps reckoning with the question’s implication.

“I, once again, very much value the memories, the opportunities, the experiences, the friendships, and the relationships that the PGA Tour has provided,” he said finally, “and these things will last — they will last a lifetime, but I hope to have the opportunity to create more.” It was an answer full of hope and optimism more than justified by current events.

The showrooms at The Country Club are going to be a great subplot this week. Always outspoken, and never shy about sharing opinions, Boston crowds are more likely to share their views on changing Phil’s life in bulk. Will they support him? Will they rip it off? Maybe a great combination of the two. No one has had a moderate opinion of Phil Mickelson in 30 years.

One day soon – perhaps not at the US Open, but soon – Phil will get his groove back. He’ll be cocky, know-it-all and just as bold as he’s been for the past 30 years as a professional. That’s what he does, he gets into trouble that will break fewer players, and get back into the green again. The question now is, how many people will be waiting to cheer him on once he gets there?

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Connect with Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter at jaybusbee.

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