Phil Mickelson. LIV Golf
Phil Mickelson hasn’t appeared in front of the media much in 2023. After a turbulent 2022 — in which he took a hiatus from competition before joining LIV Golf — Mickelson is trying to focus on playing the game inside the ropes, rather than pushing for changes outside of them.
But the six-time major winner hasn’t lost his speed in pouncing on questions that he’s anticipating. In just his second public press conference of 2023, following the PIF Saudi International in January, Mickelson canvassed a range of topics Wednesday at LIV Golf’s Tucson event in Arizona, including his return to the Masters — where he’ll be back next month after sitting out last year’s edition — and even LIV’s potential to expand to 72 holes.
Perhaps the most pressing subject of Wednesday’s address was whether LIV — which is financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund — and its brand of 54-hole events featuring $25 million purses and no cuts had forced the PGA Tour to unveil changes to its designated events for 2024. Two weeks ago, the PGA Tour informed members that eight events next year, outside the four majors and the Players championship, would have reduced field sizes of between 70 and 80 players and no 36-hole cut.
Lefty was asked, “How much is that because of LIV Golf’s influence?”
“You asked that as a question. It should be more of a statement about the fingerprints,” Mickelson quipped. “I think that it’s really a good thing. I’m happy to see it. I’m happy to see it for the (PGA) Tour. I think there will always be a need and a want for traditional golf. And there’s always an opportunity to innovate and to allow LIV to be additive and create something new and different.”
Mickelson has been credited by some as a catalyst for those changes. Last year, controversial comments the 52-year-old made about using LIV Golf as leverage to force changes within the PGA Tour, were made public. A year later, PGA Tour stars such as Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy have acknowledged the US circuit might not have innovated if it weren’t for LIV, which last year acquired big names like Mickelson, Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson.
Mickelson, whose PGA Tour career featured 45 wins, including the 2021 PGA Championship at the age of 50, did not miss the opportunity to remind the tour he felt it had “followed” LIV.
“I also think the changes bring the best players about more often,” Mickelson said. “I think that’s what fans want and what the sponsors want. They want to know what they are buying, and those are all things LIV have provided for their sponsors and television. I think it’s a good model to follow, and I’m glad that they [the PGA Tour] are.”
He added: “I’m really happy with the way LIV has brought about new change to the game.”
What LIV hasn’t been able to change about the ecosystem of pro golf is which tours can offer Official World Golf Ranking points at their tournaments. LIV has an application sitting with the OWGR to receive points for its 54-hole tournaments but has not heard an answer. LIV’s application may struggle, given its 48-player roster and lack of 36-hole cuts do not meet the usual criteria for OWGR points. Mickelson did not rule out LIV expanding to 72 holes in the future to try and meet more of the OWGR requirements.
“Evolution. We’ll just simply evolve … when we see something that can be better,” Mickelson said. “There’s a lot of specifics that we could look at and say, gosh, do we need to go to 72 holes to get world ranking points? Those are things we can talk about, and, again, we have the fluidity to make changes if it’s in the best interests of the players or the league or for the fans or for the sponsors. But I don’t feel that that’s a pressing need right now. Otherwise, it would have been changed.”
Outside of LIV, which will host its Tucson event at The Gallery beginning on Friday, fans will next see Mickelson at the Masters in the first week of April, where he is a three-time winner. As such, he will be part of the Champions Dinner that will be his first since joining LIV.
Mickelson was asked if he had any expectations for how LIV golfers would fare on the famous leaderboard at Augusta National, to which he had a very diplomatic answer: “No expectations. We are grateful to just be able to play and compete and be a part of it. A lot of the people there that are playing and competing in the Masters are friends for decades, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again.”