Is there a way back to the tour for Phil Mickelson?

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Is there a way back to the tour for Phil Mickelson?

The PGA Championship is just a few short months away, but will it have its defending champion, Phil Mickelson, playing? After the fallout from Lefty’s Saudi League and PGA comments, it’s an open question. Already, the six-time major winner’s golf sabbatical has extended to the upcoming 2022 Masters Tournament, where Mickelson’s had his most success.

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are the only two active players with more than five majors. Tiger’s slowly preparing for his own comeback, but Phil’s future is hanging in the balance. As of Monday, golf fans got a shock seeing Mickelson’s name listed under “Past Champions Not Playing,” his first absence from the event in 28 years.

How many pictures of the 51-year-old have we seen with him donning that green jacket over the years? Half of his majors have come from this tournament alone. It’s particularly head-scratching considering that some had predicted the legendary golfer maybe attempting a comeback campaign at the event.

But the bleeding from Phil’s self-acknowledged “reckless” comments about the Saudis seems to have an endless trail, with the golfer out since the Saudi International last February, including missing another flagship event, last week’s The Players.

Major sponsors have abandoned him and he released a statement that announced his temporary leave from golf while he works on (probably) how to formulate a way back to the sport that he loves.

“The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level,” Mickelson said in his Feb.

22 statement, according to Golf Digest. “I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be”.

Phil’s dramatic downfall has been shocking to say the least, especially considering the height from which he’s fallen since becoming the oldest major winner in PGA history last May.

At age 50, the enormously popular player did the impossible and won one more major after being written off by many, outlasting a much younger, aggressive Brooks Koepka to claim an additional feat of glory. It had all the hallmarks of a storybook ending.

Should Mickelson have retired on top of the game at that point? Perhaps. We’ll never know. The quinquagenarian also had every right to keep going, being able to keep up with the best of the young guns on the tour. After the PGA, Phil set aside talk of retiring (and transitioning to commentating, as has been rumored, where he would be excellent, although now I’m not so sure) and confidently thought about playing for a few more good years.

And why not? He’s never won the U.S. Open, where he’s come ever so close six painful times, and his two wins at the PGA were 16 years apart. The last second finish for Mickelson at the U.S. Open was as recent as 2013.

A newly confident Mickelson probably said he could defy the odds perhaps one more time and achieve his four-majors dream. All that is up in the air of course. Despite his enormous PGA success, Mickelson clearly has some resentment left over with the PGA.

His endeavor—including having his lawyer’s draw up the league’s operating charter, and trying to persuade others on the Tour to join—with the Saudi-backed golf league, LIV Golf, was a way for him to leverage greater control in the situation.

His criticism of the PGA is one thing, but his leaked comments about Saudi Arabia brought everything to a boiling point, angering both sides of what Phil seemingly thought was a brilliant power play within the game.

“We’re having a discussion right now with our Players Advisory Council on a number of issues, one of which is disclosures and transparency,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said at the Players Championship, earlier this month, quoted in Golf Digest.

Making things worse, it’s also not clear whether Phil Mickelson’s sabbatical is really a sabbatical at all, but a suspension—and likely a six month one at that—from the PGA, according to several sources, for his “obnoxious greed”.

The golfing association hasn’t confirmed that suspicion, but neither have they denied it. The seemingly unforthcoming way of operating has now become an example of the kind of lack of transparency that the three-time PGA winner was criticizing about the organization, including if he’s secretly suspended.

But Phil’s also dug himself a hole where he can no longer do anything about it.

So where does Phil Mickelson go from here? The highly lucrative LIV Golf series is going ahead with golfing legend Greg Norman at the helm, kicking off an eight-event schedule.

Any positive intentions on the part of Phil to improve operations within the PGA have been eroded.

“He stepped away on his own accord, and he's asked for time,” Monahan also said, without admitting or not admitting if the famous golfer has been suspended.

“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”.

Originally critical of Phil’s initiative with the LIV Golf league, even four-time major winner Rory McIlroy chimed in about the ambiguous way Mickelson’s absence is being handled.

“I’ve always felt that a few of the bans or suspensions, I think that should be announced,” Rory McIlroy said in Golf Digest. “I think that should be more transparent. I’ve always said that”.

If you had asked me if we would witness this kind of bad blood between the PGA and Phil Mickelson, I would have bet against you. I never would have believed that we would see such a spectacular downfall from one of the most revered golfers in the game.

For now Mickelson’s maintaining his silent exile, probably contemplating how he wants to manage a very difficult comeback and a way of (eventually) saying goodbye to the game on his own terms.

Mickelson’s now stuck in the unenviable position of trying to rehabilitate his image at this late stage by having to make amends with the very organization he tried to change with strong-arm tactics that failed spectacularly.

And in the end, is it worth it, with the cloud of controversy coloring the last chapter of his legacy?

Only Phil Mickelson can answer that philosophical question.

Lefty’s certainly done the impossible before. His comeback now will be the biggest fight of his career. My advice for Phil Mickelson is that if he does decide to rejoin the game, he do it with a dignified honesty that we can all respect. That's the least his fans deserve.