Phil Mickelson was the town’s toast at last year’s PGA Championship, but no one could have predicted what would be played by then.
You’ve definitely seen the picture before.
Hundreds of fans upload, telling their faces about the extraordinary scenes unfolding in front of them.
Grown-up adults lose their minds: they throw punches wildly, beaming with smiles as they rush to take sides in a mad dash.
Hundreds soon become thousands.
At the front of the frenzied group is a man who stands an image of composure, seemingly insensitive to the excitement of the occasion.
Watch the 2022 PGA Championship with FOX SPORTS on Kayo. Each round live and on demand. May 20 – 23 New in Kayo? Try now 14 days for free>
He silently raises a fist, pursed lips and strides forward as if leading his troops into battle.
For a moment, if there really was a battle, you felt like they would do just as he had commanded.
The man in the lead is Phil Mickelson, who climbs the 18th hole on the island of Kiawah to reach a sixth major; the 2021 PGA championship.
At 50 years and 11 months, he was the oldest major winner in golf history and certainly one of his most beloved.
Mickelson had missed the cut in six of the 14 events he had played in the 2021 season prior to the PGA Championship, while his best finish was 21st at the Masters.
Yet he defied both the odds and time itself to outlive Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen in a brutal final round, winning by two to six to six.
More widely celebrated victories have seldom been.
But within a year of reaching the pinnacle of his popularity, Mickelson has suddenly become part of the infamy of golf.
Mickelson never professed to be an angel, but he was lucky enough to see his thirst for gambling and his conceited character accepted as part of his legend.
Perhaps feeling untouchable, Mickelson eventually went a step – or a whole jump – too far, and now he poses as one of the game’s biggest villains.
He did so by revealing that he was negotiating with a rival tour, backed by the Saudi Arabian regime, to get leverage against the PGA Tour in an effort to increase his earning potential.
Mickelson revealed this at the same time as he acknowledged the atrocities committed by the government of Saudi Arabia, most notably the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible human rights story. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all this, why should I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour operates, ”said Mickelson.
The 51-year-old hasn’t been seen on tour since those comments – which he claims had been made out of archives for Alan Shipnuck – were made public by the author in February.
Which brings us here: Mickelson was called out to defend his PGA championship next week in Southern Hills.
Whether or not you play is the biggest question before the major, which sadly is intertwined with the left-handed story.
Mickelson hasn’t even posted on social media since he announced on February 23 that he would be taking his time indefinitely, leaving us largely in the dark about his future plans.
What we do know is that he has registered to play in both the PGA Championship and the US Open, but has also applied for permission to play in the opening of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series next month.
The PGA Tour has since denied all requests for permission to play in the event, putting Mickelson and other players on a collision course with the organization, which will have the green light to take disciplinary action against those who play.
Mickelson is believed to be busy playing the LIV Golf event alongside fellow veterans Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.
But there are very few other big names joining them. The best players in the world wouldn’t have been surprised standing next to Mickelson by choice right now.
LIV Golf chief and commissioner Greg Norman said earlier this month that he invited at least 30% of the world’s top 50 male golfers to play in the $ 25 million ($ A36 million) tournament in London. .
So Mickelson’s comments went public and were universally condemned.
“I don’t want to kick someone while they’re down obviously, but I thought they were naive, selfish, selfish, ignorant,” Rory McIlroy said of Mickelson’s comments.
Billy Horschel said they were “a little bit idiotic” and that Mickelson was “damaging his reputation and tarnishing his legacy a little.”
Perhaps the most damning assessment, however, came from Golf Channel analyst Eamon Lynch, who said, “I can’t think of a more morally bankruptcy statement than any public figure could make.”
Golfers have ditched their LIV Golf plans en masse, while some of the game’s best players, including once connected Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, have pledged their allegiance to the PGA Tour.
Next month’s opening will now include just 19 of the top 100 players in the world, according to Norman, who said everyone else “has the jitters.”
“There’s no question (Mickelson’s comments) hurt,” Norman told ESPN. “It hurts in many ways. It hurts on the PGA Tour. It hurts us. The game of golf hurts. It hurts Phil. So yeah, on all counts. It wasn’t just specifically for us. But he definitely created a negative momentum against us. “
Norman isn’t exactly on the verge of winning any popularity contests anytime soon for his blatant willingness to work with the Saudis.
This week, he said “we all made mistakes” when he addressed Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record and Khashoggi’s murder.
Lynch did not fail again, saying, “Just when you thought Greg Norman’s shilling for murderers couldn’t get more despicable.”
However, the fact that LIV Golf is not just a topic of discussion before the PGA Championship, but is actually moving forward, is in itself a success for Norman, whose war against the PGA Tour is getting tougher by the day.
Norman was shocked by the PGA Tour’s attitude towards his competition, accusing it of being “anti-golfer, anti-fan and anti-competitive”.
He also claimed that the PGA Tour was intent on “perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market.”
Alternatively, LIV Golf offers huge cash prizes that have largely attracted an older demographic of players and those who are not regularly in contention.
None of this really matters, however, as long as the best players in the world stay in their place.
And it is in this fact that Mickelson will face a sobering realization next week.
Mickelson is now far from one of the best players in the game. He has finished in the top 20 once in 12 starts since he won the PGA championship, and has now slipped to a world rankings of No. 58
With a three-month layoff, it becomes clear that Mickelson’s chances of defending his crown are slim, while his hopes of gaining sympathy from the galleries are even slimmer.
What could have been at least a week of appreciation for Mickelson is much more likely to be the opposite if he were to play.
Whether he stays on the PGA Tour or goes, or whether or not you play the PGA Championship, nobody really seems to care anymore.
“Look, if you want to go, go,” former PGA championship winner Justin Thomas said this week of those who want to play in the LIV Golf series.
“I mean, there have been a lot of guys who’ve been supporters and talked about it all the time and it’s been guys behind the scenes saying, I’m going, I’m doing this.”
“It’s like my whole thing is, like, just go.”
Will Zalatoris was of a similar opinion, saying, “Look, if you want (play in a LIV Golf event), nobody stops you …”
And to think it was just 12 months ago when Mickelson was enjoying a tiger-like scene of his own magical creation.
What a difference a year makes.
Originally published as The iconic photo highlights the sad, sad spiral into Phil Mickelson’s infamy … in just one year