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During the Masters in April, the CBS broadcast crew rarely, if ever, mentioned the absence of three-time champion Phil Mickelson.
Out of sight, out of mind? Mickelson’s personal leave of absence didn’t go unnoticed. He’s a larger-than-life figure in the game and the support of his adoring fans was never more evident than when a scene out of a Lollapalooza concert practically lifted him to victory at the ripe age of 50 at the 2021 PGA Championship in Kiawah.
On the verge of the 104th PGA Championship, a mere seven days until Mickelson’s title defense begins at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it’s still unclear whether he will play, and, if he will address the media. Mickelson has ghosted the world since February 22 when he issued a statement that he was in desperate need of some 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 that Mickelson hasn’t teed it up since January or been heard from since losing almost all of his sponsors, Alan Shipnuck’s unauthorized biography of Mickelson, which contains the excerpted quotes that have significantly altered his public image, will be released next Tuesday. The Mickelson storyline can no longer be ignored by CBS. Or can it?
On Wednesday during a media conference call, CBS’s Jim Nantz was asked (by me) an open-ended question: What advice would he give to Phil?
Phil Mickelson holds up a silver dollar that belonged to his grandfather during an awards ceremony after winning the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in Pebble Beach, California. At left is broadcaster Jim Nantz. (Photo: Eric Risberg/Associated Press)
Nantz did something I’d never seen him do before. The voice of CBS Sports, a man capable of waxing rhapsodic on most any subject related to the game and who has shared an intimate relationship with Mickelson for three decades, gave the question the old Heisman stiff arm. He acknowledged that he had spoken to Mickelson and said he was going to keep their conversation private.
But us media types are persistent and later on, Nantz was again asked about Mickelson and this time he offered a bit more, calling it “a totally personal decision” and concluding Mickelson will return at some point, though he didn’t offer when that might be. “Sometimes we get caught up in the cyclone of the story and we think it’s forever. It won’t be forever. He’ll be back, he’ll play, he’s got a ton of fans out there,” Nantz said. “This is a forgiving nation and there’s a million examples of people finding their way back to being on top again, and I fully expect he will one day.”
Nantz’s partner in the booth, Nick Faldo, was more willing to share his opinion, while still dancing around answering the actual question put forth of whether Mickelson should play at the PGA. His mere presence would make him the biggest storyline and Faldo expressed concern that Mickelson may struggle to find the proper mindset to put up much of a fight in his title defense.
“I think he would love to play,” Faldo said. “I personally think it’s an unbelievable mental challenge to come play after what he’s put himself through, simple as that. I don’t think it’s as easy as just getting back on the bike and arriving at a golf tournament and going and playing. The attention is going to be monumental. I don’t know whether he will be mentally ready for that.”