Phil Mickelson is taking an extended break from golf.
In his half-apology in the wake of his comments about the Saudi Super Golf League that set the golf world ablaze, Mickelson wrote that he would be taking some time away from the sport to reflect.
Given Mickelson’s announcement of a break, fans and fellow players alike were left wondering whether the decision was solely Phil’s, or rather the result of a suspension handed down by the PGA Tour.
Currently, the Tour does not disclose suspensions, so while it was possible that Mickelson had been punished for his comments and actions against the Tour, the public has no way of knowing for sure. Rory McIlroy is looking to change that.
Speaking with reporters ahead of the Players Championship, which begins Thursday at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass, McIlroy, who has served as the chairman of the PGA Tour’s player advisory council and now serves as a Player Director, called for more transparency regarding such punishments.
“I think the one thing that the Tour in general could do a better job at is transparency,” McIlroy said. “Whether that be with — yeah, just with everything. I think transparency and maybe it not bez as closed a shop. I’ve always felt that a few of the bans or suspensions, I think that should all be announced. I think that should be more transparent. I’ve always said that.”
While McIlroy’s comments came in response to a question about PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, given the timing, the remarks seemed to nod at the cloudiness surrounding Mickelson’s situation.
Monahan, who spoke later, brushed off the comments with a joke.
“He just said that?” Monahan asked when relayed McIlroy’s response. “I would say — effective immediately — Rory McIlroy is suspended [laughs].”
Despite the joke, Monahan still kept things rather murky regarding Mickelson’s status.
“He stepped away on his own accord, and he’s asked for time,” Monahan said. “He’s been given that time. We don’t comment on disciplinary matters, potential matters or actual matters. But every player is accountable for their actions out here.”
Over the winter, Mickelson’s name had been not-so-secretly tied to the rumored Super Golf League being financially backed by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. The league, a breakaway effort of sorts from the PGA Tour, would shake up the world of professional golf.
But after comments Mickelson made to Alan Shipnuck of the Fire Pit Collective were made public, talk of the upstart league has mostly paused.
“They’re scary motherfuckers to get involved with,” Mickelson said of the Saudis, in the interview with Shipnuck. “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.”
In Mickelson’s comments, he admits to using the SGL as a point of leverage against the PGA Tour. Additionally, Mickelson told Shipnuck that he had hired attorneys to help draft the operating agreement of the new league.
Given Mickelson’s candor speaking about leverage against the Tour, and the admission that he was actively helping to construct the rules of a league that would rival the Tour, a suspension against Mickelson would be justified, falling under the definition of “conduct unbecoming of a professional.”
Per the PGA Tour rules:
“…It is an obligation of membership to refrain from making comments that unreasonably attack or disparage others, including, but not limited to tournaments, sponsors, fellow members/players and/or PGA TOUR. Speech that could be reasonably viewed as hateful, abusive, obscene and/or divisive is expressly prohibited. Responsible expressions of legitimate disagreement with PGA TOUR policies are not prohibited. However, public comments that a member knows, or should reasonably know, will harm the reputation or financial best interest of PGA TOUR, a fellow member/player, a tournament sponsor or a charity are expressly covered by this section. Any violation of this section shall be considered conduct unbecoming a professional.”
Mickelson’s comments, and general support of a direct PGA Tour competitor, would undoubtedly qualify as “harming the reputation or financial best interest of PGA TOUR.”
But despite what looks like a clear violation, the current rules of the Tour make it so no one knows for sure whether Mickelson’s leave from competition is a personal choice or one handed down to him.
As things stand, it’s unclear when Mickelson will be back on the course. If he’s not suspended, Mickelson could reasonably come back whenever he feels he’s ready to play. If he is suspended by the PGA Tour, it’s possible he could still play events that do not fall under the purview of the Tour, such as the Masters.