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PALM SPRINGS, California — The next time Phil Mickelson swings a golf club in competition should be at the 2022 American Express tournament in La Quinta, a tournament that he hosts and for which his foundation is the charitable arm.
When Mickelson does play in La Quinta in January in a tournament he has won twice, he will do so coming off of one of the most remarkable calendar years any golfer has played. He wasn’t the player of the year on either the PGA Tour or the PGA Tour Champions. He didn’t earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team. But he crafted storylines on both the regular and the senior tour that were the most captivating stories of the year.
That’s what has made Mickelson’s career so remarkable. In the era of Tiger Woods, Mickelson never reached No. 1 in the world ranking. He has six major titles, but other players have more through history. But like Arnold Palmer before him, whatever Mickelson does seems to be done with a flair that almost compels fans to pay attention.
The year that Mickelson just produced should pay some local benefits as well. No one can say for sure how many PGA Tour events Mickelson will play in 2022, but one of them will be The American Express. That surely will bring a few extra eyes to the La Quinta event, if only to see what Mickelson might conjure that week.
We know that Mickelson’s four magical days at Kiawah Island produced history with a victory last May in the PGA Championship. It was a major championship that hardly anyone could have imagined, perhaps not even the confident Mickelson himself. Not only did Mickelson win his sixth major title eight years after his previous major win, but the PGA victory came just one month before Mickelson’s 51st birthday. It was his only win of the year, in fact his only top-10 finish of the year. But it is the win most golf fans will point to as the year’s most memorable moment.
But as a 50-year-old, Mickelson could also play on the Champions Tour. He played only one senior event between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1, focusing instead on the regular tour through the end of the majors. But once he set his sights on the senior tour, Mickelson was as dominant as you would expect him to be among the 50-and-older set.
Mickelson a force on the PGA Tour Champions
He played two events in October and one this month, winning twice including the Charles Schwab Champions Cup event in Phoenix Sunday. A back-nine of 4-under 31 was enough to vault Lefty past a strong group of players including Jim Furyk. No, Mickelson hadn’t played enough to challenge for the season-long Charles Schwab Cup, but he was the tour’s best player when he did play.
Each of the last two years Mickelson has started the season with a bit of a question in his mind as to how much golf he would play on the two tours. In 2020, that question was answered a bit by COVID-19, with the tour taking three months off at one point and rescheduling so many other events, including the major championships. In the calendar year 2021, with a more traditional schedule, as the pandemic eased, Mickelson played 18 times since Jan. 1 (he has played one additional event since the 2021-2022 wraparound season started on the regular tour) and four times on the senior tour.
The question of splitting time will certainly have to be answered again for Mickelson as 2022 rolls around. He’ll play The American Express, and he’ll play in the major championships. There will be some World Golf Championships in all likelihood as well as a few regular events he wants to play. But will he play as many as 18 tournaments on the PGA Tour as he did this year? Will he limit himself to four senior events, or will the senior majors start to have an appeal as he continues to have success on the 50-and-over circuit?
One thing is for sure. Mickelson will bring all of those compelling storylines to the desert in January, where he will try to start another improbable year.
Larry Bohannan is The Palm Springs (Calif.) Desert Sun golf writer, he can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_Bohannan.