TULSA, Okla. — Somewhere PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is smiling as wide as the Grand Canyon after hearing the pro-PGA Tour support from Tiger Woods.
When asked to share his feelings about Phil Mickelson being absent from the 104th PGA Championship this week at Southern Hills, Woods expressed his disappointment that the defending champion wouldn’t be competing, saying, “We’ll miss him,” but didn’t mince words.
“Phil has said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the Tour and committed to the legacy of the Tour have pushed back against, and he’s taken some personal time, and we all understand that,” Woods said. “Some of his views on how the Tour could be run, should be run, been a lot of disagreement there. Obviously we’re going to have difference of opinions, how he sees the Tour, and we’ll go from there.”
In February, Mickelson charged the Tour with “obnoxiously greed” during the Saudi International and later that month Alan Shipnuck, author of “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar,” dropped an excerpt on The Firepit Collective website in which Mickelson trashed the PGA Tour, calling it “a dictatorship” and explained his dalliance with joining the Saudi-back LIV Golf.
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“They’re scary mother (expletive) to get involved with,” he said. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They’ve [the PGA Tour] been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”
During his Tuesday press conference ahead of the PGA Championship, Woods was just getting started on making it perfectly clear that he’s committed to the PGA Tour and to distance himself from the vision for world golf that Mickelson, Greg Norman and others are pitching.
“I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past,” Woods said. “There’s plenty of money out here. The Tour is growing. But it’s just like any other sport. It’s like tennis. You have to go out there and earn it. You’ve got to go out there and play for it. We have opportunity to go ahead and do it. It’s just not guaranteed up front.”
Woods confirmed that he hasn’t spoken to Mickelson since Lefty announced his self-imposed leave absence in a non-apology apology five days after Shipnuck’s release of Mickelson’s inflammatory comments rocked his world “to become a better man.”
Asked if he was surprised with how quickly it has escalated with Mickelson losing the majority of his sponsors and going on to miss the Players and now consecutive two majors, Woods agreed and blamed social media for its role in changing the landscape for news and opinions being disseminated.
“What we are seeing right now in society, it’s very bipolar. There’s really no middle ground, you stand one way or the other. It’s very polarizing,” he said. “And the viewpoints that Phil has made with the Tour and what the Tour has meant to all of us has been polarizing as well.”
No one in the golf world understands better what it is like to deal with a public scandal and some of the requisite shaming that accompanies it better than Woods but he offered little counsel for how Mickelson should handle it. Woods said he respected different viewpoints and that Mickelson was welcome to have his own opinions on the future of the professional game and should follow his beliefs.
“I don’t know if he has to resolve it or not. You know, he has his opinion on where he sees the game of golf going. You know, I have my viewpoint how I see the game of golf, and I’ve supported the Tour and my foundation has run events on the Tour for a number of years,” Woods said. “I just think that what Jack and Arnold have done in starting the Tour and breaking away from the PGA of America and creating our tour in ’68 or ’69, somewhere in there, I just think there’s a legacy to that.
“I’ve been playing out here for a couple of years over decades, and I think there’s a legacy to it. I still think that the Tour has so much to offer, so much opportunity.”