Augusta National officials do not want Phil Mickelson playing in Masters

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Golf fans were surprised, even shocked, when news broke Monday that Phil Mickelson would not be playing in next month’s Masters.

They shouldn’t have been.

Mickelson has been in the news for all the wrong reasons the last few months. His comments to Golf Digest about the PGA Tour being “obnoxiously greedy” were just the start, coming from a World Golf Hall of Famer who has earned almost $95 million from a tour that has given him the platform to earn an estimated $700 million-plus in endorsements.

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Mickelson didn’t stop there. He said during an interview with longtime golf writer Alan Shipnuck that appeared on the Fire Pit Collective’s website he was interested in joining the Saudi-backed LIV Golf International Series despite voicing the Saudis were “scary mother (bleep),” because of their history of human rights violations. He even admitted to enlisting three other top players to pay for attorneys to write the upstart tour’s operating agreement.

Another Lefty lowlight, perhaps the biggest flop of his career.

Phil Mickelson, acknowledging the crowd after a putt during the first round of the Farmer's Insurance Open in January, will not play in the Masters.
Phil Mickelson, acknowledging the crowd after a putt during the first round of the Farmer's Insurance Open in January, will not play in the Masters.

Never mind Mickelson has won three green jackets, including earning his long-awaited first major in 2004; that he has become one of the most popular players of his generation; that he made history at the PGA Championship less than a year ago when he became at 50 the oldest player to win a major championship.

Mickelson accomplished these feats with a club in his hand. It’s when the six-time major champion starts talking that he gets into trouble.

Mickelson did not as much withdraw from the Masters - Augusta National officials either told him or strongly encouraged him not to come, according to multiple sources. The last thing they want is Mickelson to drive down Magnolia Lane knowing the circus that was coming with him.

PGA Tour: No comment if Mickelson was suspended

Moreover, the PGA Tour will never admit this, but according to those same sources, Mickelson has been suspended from the tour for his “obnoxiously greedy” comments and for admitting he helped a rival tour gain traction. Why else would he miss the Players, with the largest purse for a U.S. golf tournament?

When asked at the Players if Mickelson had been suspended, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monaghan danced around the question. The PGA Tour has a long-standing policy of not announcing discipline against players.

The Masters, because it is run by the powers-to-be at Augusta National and not the PGA Tour, has the ability to invite – or disinvite – whoever it wants.

But the reason Mickelson is in this sticky situation isn’t as much because of his recent comments. It’s about his actions during the last two decades.

Mickelson is the subject of two upcoming books, one a biography by Shipnuck that will come out in May. The other book, perhaps more revealingly, is co-written by former friend and legendary gambler Billy Walters, who was sentenced in 2017 to five years in jail for making more than $43 million from trades of Dean Foods though inside information.

At Walters’ urging, Mickelson made more than $931,000 trading Dean Foods stocks in 2012. The SEC named Mickelson a “relief defendant,” meaning the agency believed he profited from insider trading in Dean Foods, even if he didn’t engage in it himself. Mickelson agreed to surrender his trading profits, plus interest of more than $100,000, without admitting or denying the allegations.

Walters is co-writing his book with respected investigative journalist Armen Keteyian. The book, which is expected to be available in December, is not specifically about Mickelson, but will surely include information about their relationship. Mickelson once owed Walters almost $2 million in gambling losses.

There’s a reason why almost all of Mickelson’s major endorsers have either ended their deals or, in Callaway’s case, put it on pause – and it’s not just his inflammatory comments

They have a good idea what’s coming in these books, and it’s not going to be pretty.

When Mickelson issued a public statement last month, he admitted to some troubled times when he wrote, “The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

Is it just Mickelson’s gambling history that will appear in the books? Mickelson has never made a secret of his love to wager, often telling reporters who he bet on in the upcoming Super Bowl. His advisors finally told him to stop talking about his wagers publicly.

What’s been notable during the last two months is the lack of support Mickelson has received from fellow players. Nobody has come to his defense, other than Rory McIlroy, and that was only after McIlroy said Mickelson’s comments were “naïve, selfish, egotistical, ignorant.”

Will this be Phil Mickelson's legacy?

Mickelson has long been one of the most polarizing players in professional golf. Fans love him for his go-for-broke style, his willingness to sign autographs, his ever-present smile and his constant “thumbs up” gesture on the course -- a huge borrow of Arnold Palmer’s signature move – while most players have rolled their eyes at his antics. He was long ago nicknamed “FIGJAM,” the last five words being “I’m good; just ask me.”

It’s a shame it has come to this. Nobody likes to see legends exposed for their weaknesses. Mickelson has done countless good deeds during his career, raised lots of money for charity, but that’s not what’s being remembered these days.

Mickelson said two years ago he was going to join the ever-growing list of the world’s top golfers to move to South Florida (world No. 2 Collin Morikawa will be the latest one; he’s moving to Jupiter), but it’s unclear if that will happen. Mickelson’s family remains in California and many wonder if he will ever move to Jupiter Island.

We know he won’t play at the Masters. Next question is, will Mickelson defend his PGA Championship in May at Southern Hills? That’s no longer a certainty.

“What will Phil do next?” is no longer a marketing slogan, but a real concern.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Augusta National officials don't want Phil Mickelson playing in Masters