Insulting golfer Great Phil Mickelson was nowhere near the Southern Hills Country Club this week, even his name was avoided like a plague.
The protagonist of the 2021 PGA Championship decided not to defend his title and, if he had chosen, he would probably have wandered the fairway in relative silence, perhaps because of the 51-year-old golfer’s professional golf on his cold shoulder.
Mickelson is out of the PGA Tour due to his involvement in the Rebel LIV Golf League, led by controversial Aussie icon Greg Norman and will begin in England next month.
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As the defending winner, he should have hosted a dinner for the champions on Tuesday night. Mickelson was nowhere to be seen.
“It was a fun evening. Phil was not missed,” said two-time PGA Championship winner Dave Stockton. “Phil would be a big mess.”
But while everyone in the Southern Hills desperately tried to avoid Mickelson Firestorm, fate determined that he was not too far away from the wild fourth day play-off action and trophy presentation.
Mickelson’s former longtime caddy, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay, was in the bag for 2022 champion Justin Thomas.
Mack worked as Mickelson’s right-hand man for 25 years before the pair split in 2017. He won the 2005 PGA Championship with Lefty – one of the top five they celebrated together.
This time, it was the 57-year-old Mack who was drinking to win another championship, while his former boss Mickelson wondered what could have happened if he had chosen to snatch Saudi wealth on offer elsewhere.
Mickelson became the oldest major winner in golf history last year, claiming the championship at the age of 50.
McKay wasn’t in the bag for that win but Thomas – the 29-year-old – spent this week on the now-defunct Icon tour, reaping the rewards of the ‘bonus’ experience gained over two and a half decades.
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After a weak third round almost knocked Thomas out of the controversy – he came from eight shots from the lead to win the tournament on Monday (AEST) – it was a pep talk from his caddy that led him to a stunning victory.
“I’m pretty confident I couldn’t stand here if he didn’t give it to me … not necessarily a speech, but a speech, if you will,” Thomas told the media after lifting the coveted Wanamakar trophy.
“I just need to get some steam out. I don’t need to bring my frustration and anger with me. I don’t need to leave the golf course in the negative frame of my mind.
“I played pretty well yesterday (third round) for a four-over shoot, and I thought I played terribly. And (Mac) was just like, ‘Dude, you have to stop being so hard on yourself.’ Every week there is a debate about what we are playing.
McKay was asked about the rev-up – like many he would offer Mickelson in their 25 years – because he helped another superstar to a big win.
“The bottom line is that there’s nothing you can do about it,” McKay said.
“The round could easily have been 69 or 70, but he shot 74. It was a card number, but there was nothing to fix. And he had a great range session to end the day.”
Tearful Thomas celebrates his play-off victory against Will Galatoris with his parents and fiance, his caddy being seen taking a quiet moment for himself on the edge of the 18th green.
Mack was obviously emotional – perhaps reminiscent of his past success with another player – and could only say a few words when asked what this comeback win meant to him.
“It means a lot,” he said.
It was Mack’s first appearance at a golf major since his breakup with Mickelson five years ago.
After the two parted ways, ‘Bones’ started a commentary gig with NBC and the Golf Channel. He was on the verge of extending that contract after receiving an unexpected phone call from Thomas in late 2021.
Mack thought his caddy days were over. There was only one player who could take him to retirement.
“When I started on TV there were always three or four people that I felt you would take seriously if they communicated,” Mack told Sports Illustrated in February.
“It went down to three and then to two. And then it just became one. Even in a million years I didn’t think it was going to come close. But when Justin called me, I was as surprised as anyone. And he was one.
“I told my wife that if Justin Thomas ever called me, I would have thought of something. Because as a person and as a player there is something about him that I really like.”
Now ‘Bones’ Mack can add a sixth big trophy to his caddy cabinet.
Mickelson? For now, he will be in the wilderness of sports.
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