When Phil Mickelson headed to California in January for his second year as official host of The American Express, he was asked the expected question: How does Mickelson, at age 50, decide whether to keep playing on the PGA Tour or start playing more on the PGA Tour Champions, where he won twice in two starts last year?
“If I don’t play well early on, I’ll start to re-evaluate things and maybe play a few more events on the Champions Tour because what’s fun for me is competing, getting in contention, and trying to win tournaments,” Mickelson said in January. “But I’ve made some strides in my game. I’m excited to start the year and see if I can play at the highest level like I expect to.”
Four weeks later, it sounds a bit like Mickelson has started to make some of those decisions, and the idea of playing a little more senior golf doesn’t seem to be so bad to Lefty.
Mickelson told Golfweek on Friday that his first PGA Tour Champions start of the year will be this coming week at the Cologuard Classic in Tucson, the second senior event of the calendar year. The start will come 30 years after Mickelson won the Tucson Open on the PGA Tour as an amateur.
What is interesting is the event is being played opposite the WGC Workday Championship at The Concession in Florida. Mickelson — a long-time spokesperson for Workday — has been a fixture in World Golf Championships since they debuted, but he is not eligible for the field this year.
So it will be three rounds of senior golf for Mickelson next week. But the decision isn’t that surprising if you look at Mickelson’s words from January. In the four tournaments since he spoke those words, Mickelson’s play has been anything but Mickelson-like.
Tough month for Lefty’s scores
Mickelson missed the cut at The American Express, failing to break par in either of his two rounds. The next week, he needed birdies on his final two holes in the second round to make the cut but finished just 53rd at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego.
In a start on the European Tour in Saudi Arabia, Mickelson played well the first two days but drifted back to 53rd by the end of the week. He then jetted to Pebble Beach for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, one of his favorite tournaments where he has won five times, as recently as 2019. But he missed the cut last week, including shooting an 80 in the second round.
In all, since the start of the 2020-21 season, Mickelson has missed four cuts in eight starts on the PGA Tour and hasn’t finished better than 44th in the four events he has played the weekend. Mickelson said he would re-evaluate things if he didn’t play well early on, and he certainly hasn’t played well recently.
But all Champions? Not just yet
Still, none of this means that Mickelson is cutting ties with the PGA Tour anytime soon or that he will become a full-time senior golfer. That will never happen for Mickelson, who likes to test his game against the best in the world on a regular basis.
Besides, Mickelson is eligible in the next three months for The Players Championship, the Masters and the PGA Championship, and he’d never skip those events. And there is that hosting spot at The American Express every January.
It just means that Mickelson is more open to playing in PGA Tour Champions events than he was perhaps a year ago. It might also be behind talk in the last week that Mickelson is willing to discuss with networks about being a commentator rather than a full-time player.
Mickelson has nothing to prove to anyone in golf, really not even himself. His 44 career wins rank ninth all-time on Tour. He has won five majors, has finished second in the U.S. Open six times, and he did it all in the era of Tiger Woods.
Perhaps there is a win or two yet for Mickelson on the big Tour as a 50-year-old. Perhaps this is just a bad stretch of golf, something that Mickelson has faced before during his stellar career.
But at 50, with senior golf and television and surely a Ryder Cup captaincy in his future, Mickelson can still be active in golf without 20 starts on the regular Tour each year. Mickelson won’t disappear from the PGA Tour for years and years. But some senior golf with friends could certainly sound appealing.
Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for the Palm Springs Desert Sun, part of the USA Today Network. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan.