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In this week’s edition, Phil Mickelson changes tours for a breakthrough debut and Cameron Champ gives the PGA Tour a much-needed voice for change.
Senior style. On Jan. 15 – six months before his milestone 50th birthday – Phil Mickelson was asked his thoughts on the PGA Tour Champions. For those who read between lines it didn’t sound overly encouraging for the over-50 set.
“I haven't thought too much about it and I won't until I see how the first six months of this year go," Mickelson said. "I've had kind of a lot of great things happen that lead me to be encouraged about the year and I'm curious to see how the first six months go."
Those six months were fraught with all manner of historic challenges, from a pandemic to three months of quarantine, and in Lefty’s defense, the world has fundamentally changed over that span. But those less-than-encouraging thoughts evolved into one of the most anticipated and talked about Champions debuts.
Mickelson, who was bounced from the FedExCup Playoffs after the first event, was dominant on his way to a four-stroke victory at this week’s Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National and he even said he will likely add to his senior schedule going forward.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to find positives that stem from the pandemic, but if the strangest of years prompted Lefty to rethink his career choices and revitalize the Champions circuit in the process then count his schedule adjustment as a win.
Tweet of the week:
Until equality in our country means everyone is treated with the same level of dignity & respect & afforded the same level of opportunity, freedom & justice in all things as human beings, we will never be able to truly live up to our ideals or reach our full potential as a nation pic.twitter.com/AIGjpGWEHQ
— Cameron Champ (@Cameron__Champ) August 28, 2020
It’s difficult to determine golf’s role in the Black Lives Matter movement and the calls for social justice and systemic change (see Made Cut-Did Not Finish) but if the game needed a beacon of understanding and clarity it was found in Champ and Tony Finau.
At this week’s BMW Championship, Champ, who is biracial, wore one white shoe and one black shoe during Round 1 and he wrote “equality” on the side of his hat. He also wrote “BLM” and “Jacob Blake” on his shoes. Blake was shot in the back seven times on Aug. 23 by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“Black Lives Matter means all lives matter. When people say all lives matter, yes, all lives matter, but so do black lives,” Champ said. “As a whole we've kind of dug ourselves a hole. Now with media and people videotaping and seeing things, it's starting to come alive.”
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
What’s next? While Champ and Finau – and Harold Varner III, earlier in the year – have become the Tour’s unofficial spokesmen for the social justice issues facing America, the circuit remains strangely noncommittal to fully supporting an effort that seems obvious to every other major professional sport.
This week, games or practices were postponed or canceled in the NBA, MLB, MLS, WNBA and NFL as a boycott - or professional strike - of the shooting of Blake and yet the Tour remained on schedule at Olympia Fields.
In a statement, the Tour reiterated its pledge “to be a part of the solution,” but followed with the idea that “now is not the appropriate time to highlight our programs and policies.”
Numerous sources confirmed that the Tour considered postponing play this week and Tiger Woods said he discussed the option with commissioner Jay Monahan.
“I talked to the commissioner and they were on board [playing Round 1],” Woods said after his round on Thursday. “Obviously he released his statement, and all the guys were on board. So no, obviously there was talk about it because of obviously what happened, but we're all on board, on the same page.”
Maybe there isn’t anything the Tour or golf can do to directly move the country toward social justice. Maybe postponing the first round in Chicago would have simply faded into background noise on a hectic day in the sports world. Or maybe the game could have joined athletes across all sports and made a statement that’s becoming increasingly impossible to ignore.
Cinderella story. Sophia Popov’s victory at last week’s AIG Women’s Open was straight out of a Hollywood script. She had no LPGA status and admitted she almost “quit the game.” There was also a battle with Lyme disease along the way which made her victory at Royal Troon the stuff of legend.
But it turns out Popov’s triumph wasn’t exactly the perfect ending. Unlike the PGA Tour, the LPGA’s rule for major champions requires a player to be a member of the tour to earn the five-year exemption that comes with a major win.
Popov lost her tour card last year which means her victory last week in Scotland will give her LPGA status through next season. There’s also the question of the tour’s next major, the ANA Inspiration.
Because the event was originally scheduled for April Popov is not exempt into the season’s second major. We’ll let Tommy Fleetwood handle this.