The second major of the 2023 men’s golf calendar is upon us, with this week’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
The PGA Championship has traditionally been the fourth of four majors, going through a prolonged period earlier this millennium with surprise winners for whom a major win represented the height of their careers. But over the last six years, we’ve seen Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka win twice each, while Phil Mickelson and Collin Morikawa have each won it. The golf has been very good, and that includes the champions.
So what will we see at Oak Hill, which hosted the PGA Championship in 2013 but has since undergone an Andrew Green renovation designed to restore the course to its Donald Ross bones? Can Thomas repeat? Can Jon Rahm make it 2-of-2 with another major win? We’ll get to that. Today we’re focusing on Mickelson, the 2021 PGA champion at Kiawah who has since, let’s say, gone through a tumultuous time in his career.
Our three golf experts — Brendan Quinn, Brody Miller and Hugh Kellenberger — were all asked the same question: What will Phil Mickelson do this week?
Off the course, my guess is he’ll remain steadfast in his many recent Twitter-born conspiracy theories, but not extrapolate if/when asked about those claims in an actual public forum. On the course, maybe he’ll kick around the cut line, maybe make the weekend. I actually wonder most how the 52-year-old is holding up physically. In the five weeks since that emotion-charged T2 finish at the Masters, Mickelson has gone from Australia to Singapore to Tulsa, finishing 16th, 15th and 45th, and is now back at a major venue. That’s a lot to ask.
Mickelson was convinced — convinced — when he came off the 18th green at Augusta last month that he was back. His conditioning was up. He kept saying his game felt as good as it had in years and that it all came together for a T2 at The Masters. But was it real? It depends on your outlook. He did finally turn in some better LIV results with consecutive top 20s in Adelaide and Singapore, but then he finished 45th out of 48 this week in Tulsa. Then again, Mickelson isn’t somebody you analyze in tangible ways. His mind is different than most, and he can find ways to perform in things he truly cares about.
Plus, let’s not forget Mickelson is back at the PGA Championship for the first time since that historic 2021 victory. I’ll say Mickelson plays solidly, makes the cut but finishes in the 40s, never really in contention.
The only reason this is even a question is that Sunday round at Augusta, Brody, where Mickelson shot a round-best 65 and vaulted himself up to a T2 finish. Part of what made that round so remarkable was how it felt like it came out of nowhere, his LIV results so meager up to that point. Since then he’s gone back to being more of a name than a threat, including shooting even-par last week at Tulsa (only 17 shots behind the leaders, for reference).
It’s entirely possible that Mickelson does not truly care about his success on the LIV tour week-to-week, the guaranteed earnings making it so a pushed putt barely elicits a shrug, and that he will care at Oak Hill, because Mickelson has always enjoyed a stage and has a strong desire at this stage of his career to kick established PGA Tour pros in the figurative teeth. As a result, we see what we saw at the Masters, and he’s in contention on Sunday.
But I don’t think one can just turn it on and off like that so easily. And the body of work suggests that the Masters was the outlier. Mickelson makes the broadcast a lot on Thursday, very little on Friday and then goes home to get ready for the next LIV event.