During his press conference ahead of the debut of LIV Golf on Thursday, Phil Mickelson was asked how he thought winning the US Open next week would compare with his win at the 2021 PGA Championship.
“I don’t know how others will receive it but I would be quite favorable with it,” Mickelson said.
But during an NBC/Golf Channel media call to preview the 2022 US Open, lead analyst Paul Azinger said he won’t be holding his breath for Lefty to be in contention.
“If he does get in contention, it would be a miracle, I really think,” Azinger said. “A minor miracle that that guy could get in contention with all that’s been going on. But we’ll cover it fairly, I’ll tell you that.”
The question of how Mickelson, a six-time bridesmaid but never a bride at the US Open, will be received after his defection from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf and his controversial comments in February that led to take four months off from professional golf drew a variety of responses from the NBC-Golf Channel broadcasters.
“It’s a major disruption to the sport,” Azinger said. “I predict that, if Phil’s missing the cut, like on Friday afternoon or something, it can get pretty rough on him, though. I just think — this is a big step these guys have made. They’ve changed the game forever probably. …
“I think the response will be mostly positive because he has been a fan favorite for so many years. But that Boston crowd, they’re going to let you know how they feel. …
“I’m really more curious where his game is, just because he hasn’t played competitively in so long. US Open tests with a thick rough, he’s had a lot of success at US Opens, and certainly it would be a remarkable story if he does get in contention, but it’s going to require very sharp skills and skills that Phil Mickelson doesn’t always shine with as far as hitting fairways and being extremely strategic in that sense.”
Azinger’s partner in the booth, Dan Hicks, said Mickelson making a run at completing the Grand Slam career would be “something you can’t take your eyes off of if he plays well.”
“I think if Phil gets in contention, he’ll be cheered on very enthusiastically,” Hicks added. “I think it’s just a natural reaction in sport because people know he’s been chasing this US Open forever. It’s the final piece of a grand slam puzzle. It would be an unbelievable story, with everything that’s happened with him in the last several months. I think, if there was any negative kind of reaction, that would be totally drowned out by people watching what was happening in front of him.
“So I think it’s in large part due to how he plays. And let’s face it, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the two biggest — you never know what they’re going to do. Look at what Tiger’s done. I would not be surprised if Phil gets there next week and hangs around the leaderboard. He lives for that kind of thing, no pun intended. He lives for weeks like next week. He absolutely. … That’s been his whole DNA his entire career.”
“I think Dan brings up a great point,” Notah Begay III said. “We’ve had athletes throughout history end up in jail and do things that were extremely controversial, but if they have success in their respective sport on the field, the public seems to be very forgiving with regard to that. I mean, look at Tiger Woods’ struggles off the golf course a number of times, and all seemed to be forgotten when he became the Masters champion back in 2019.
“I think this is a slightly different take on the whole thing. Those were personal choices that athletes made that had an adverse effect on their lives. Phil’s choices have kind of fractured the locker room, so to speak, and slow itself to sort of more deeper ethical thought as to how athletes do use their time to support various types of initiatives related to the promotion of different ventures that have ties to things that not everybody agrees should be promoted. So, that’s the first thing to overcome is there are going to be people in the locker room that don’t wholeheartedly agree with what is happening now with the Saudi or the LIV Tour.
“Also, Phil’s always been one of the favorites amongst spectators, and he feeds off of that energy. That might not be the case starting out. Now, I agree with Dan, if he does get in contention Saturday, Sunday, I think that will all shift back behind Phil. But initially starting, not everybody there is going to be a hundred percent supportive. As Justin stated, they will speak their mind, and that’s going to depend on whether Phil can sort of fight through all that and let his game from the talking. The fact that he’s been on the shelf for the better part of the beginning of this whole year, I just don’t see that happening.”