No major has ever been staged against a toxic background like the 104th US PGA Championship in the Southern Hills of Tulsa, Oklahoma this week.
In a part of the country where the main early battles of the American Civil War took place, it is golfers who are now sharply divided and ready to split into two camps. On the one hand, the young unionists are happy with the extraordinary amount of money they have made on the long-established PGA Tour. On the other hand, angry old rebels, shipwrecks and sports-washing Saudis are ready to abandon their principles in favor of millions on offer.
Who could possibly have predicted this would come a year ago, when Phil Mickelson became the oldest major winner in history to resonate beyond the traditional boundaries of the sport with a classic tale of defeating Father Time?
Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman speaking at a practice round before PIF Saudi International
Now this is a very familiar tale of latent greed that threatens the game with irreversible loss, with both Mickelson provoking and the principal falling boy. It summarizes the problematic, current state of the game that in less divisive times people caught on every fairway don’t even feel right in the right frame of mind to get to the first team. On Friday, Mickelson announced that he would not defend his title. His deportation, which began in January, continues.
It was at the PGA on Kiva Island 12 months ago that the first monastery of the breakaway tour was heard. Behind the scenes, Saudi delegates met with players and agents. We now know that Mickelson was the leading mover on behalf of the Saudis. He was fed up with what he called the PGA Tour’s ‘outrageous greed’, denying him the ability to organize his media rights, even if there were no major games that would allow such a facility, nor to live with one.
One month after her 51st birthday, Sharmila was greeted by Mickelson after she made sacrifices to win the Major, the man himself was planning to split the game in two.
He is both the instigator and the instigator of the US Gulf’s attempt to occupy Saudi Arabia
Greg Norman himself has plunged into hot water after making false remarks about the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Mickelson has several other players on board and seemed willing to join Saudi for an incredible amount until he gave two deeply damaging interviews earlier this year that would take his long break.
At first, he burned his bridges with many young stars and hierarchies on the PGA Tour with full-frontal attacks. In another, she expressed her true feelings about the Saudis, calling them “scary mothers.”
Over the past few months, the fall-out has remained unchanged, to say the least. The PGA Tour tilted its axis in favor of young superstars and convinced them all to stay on board. This left Mickelson and a team of experienced European Rider Cup heroes on the other side.
Their strategic alliance with the DP World Tour in a landmark agreement – formerly the European Tour – shocked J. Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour, who last week refused to release the controversial event to any member wishing to play in the inaugural Saudi. Competition in St. Albans next month.
Justin Thomas (pictured), part of the tour’s younger cohort, told older players that if they wanted to go, they should.
Encouraged by twenties like Justin Thomas and Will Galatoris, it has left forty things like Mickelson and Lee Westwood and Ian Polter in jeopardy, if they ignore the order it could lead to bans, not just from the PGA Tour. Even in the majors.
Greg Norman has vowed to defend them in court, arguing that this is a trade-off, and to pay all legal costs if such a threat is made – but do the players themselves want to go that route?
‘If they want to go, they have to go,’ cried an angry Thomas last week, clearly tired of it all. From Westwood to Poulter, from Sergio Garcia to Martin Kemar, many linked to Saudi cause will be in Tulsa this week.
Sergio Garcia, a longtime sports fan, is rumored to be tempted by the Saudi breakaway.
A sulfur atmosphere is certain, although at least with Mickelson’s absence we avoid the strongest odor. It looks like he will return to the Saudi shuffles in St. Albans.
At PGA headquarters, meanwhile, they released general platitudes about how Mickelson would be “released” but had a hollow ring. Last week, Seth or, their CEO, Mikelson’s presence was openly concerned about ‘turning the incident into a media circus’. We have at least avoided that.
Given the traditional race of events, the defending champ should be celebrating its 100th career major as a professional this week. He’s stuck at 98, leaving the Masters in disgrace, and who knows, he’ll play his 99th. Rowdy at the US Open next month in Brooklyn, where the fierce Bostonians never hesitate to tell players how they feel? Good luck with that.
Lee Westwood, one of the senior members of the tour, is another who is expected to be close to being rewarded.
For this week, much of the focus will now inevitably be on a course at Tiger Woods where he won the title in 2007.
Like Tiger, Southern Hills has undergone several surgeries over the past 15 years to make it a sufficient test for this generation.
The course will also benefit from a change of date for this major, from August to May. Back in 2007, the tournament was played at temperatures above 40 degrees but spring should prove to be ideal in the relatively cold Oklahoma.
So let’s hope the game is called a short truce in the Civil War. Is it too much to ask that for at least a week we can talk eagles more than legally, and more importantly than the Saudi events which are not? Sadly – even without Mickelson’s toxic appearance – it probably is.
The Southern Hills have undergone major surgeries since Tiger Woods’ victory in 2007.