His name is still on the Wall of Champions at Colonial Country Club, but it may as well read, “He Who Shall Not be Named.”
Phil Mickelson is almost as welcome at PGA Tour events as COVID restrictions.
Phil last played Colonial in 2021, the week after he won the PGA Championship, mostly as a favor to Charles Schwab, whose name adorns the PGA Tour event in Fort Worth.
For more than 10 years no player was more welcome by crowds at Colonial than Mickelson, who won the tournament twice; do not expect to see Phil do Schwab a solid and play Hogan’s Alley any more.
Rather than hit Colonial this week, Mickelson is scheduled to play at Trump National Golf Club in Washington D.C. this weekend in the LIV Golf tournament.
This weekend on the calendar is the still relatively new phenomena of the PGA Tour going head to head against a LIV Golf event.
Because LIV Golf is on the CW Network and the PGA Tour is carried by CBS, this “matchup” won’t be much of a contest, but LIV vs. the Tour is the biggest game within the game.
Mickelson joining LIV Golf, along with several other high profile members of the PGA Tour, created a divide twice the size of the Trinity River that is felt all over the world, including here in Fort Worth.
This will be the first PGA Tour event at Colonial that will directly “conflict” with LIV Golf, which began play in June of 2022 under controversy fueled by the fact it’s funded by the Saudi Arabian royal fund.
Along with Mickelson, two other players who would normally be in Fort Worth to play this weekend will be at Trump National in D.C.: Jason Kokrak and Kevin Na are both winners of the Colonial, but now are with LIV Golf.
Other LIV players who most likely would have played Colonial include Harold Varner III, Louis Oosthuizen and a few others who have played the tournament before.
“I’d say it seems like it has settled down,” Charles Schwab Challenge defending champion Sam Burns said Wednesday of the LIV versus PGA Tour debate. “I feel like the PGA Tour is in one of the best places it’s ever been for the future of the game. I’m excited to see the trajectory for this season, and next season with the new schedule.”
As a direct result of LIV Golf, the PGA Tour altered its schedule and the initial fear was it would create two tours: Big Money, and The Others.
The PGA Tour’s 13 “elevated” or “designated” tournaments feature purses of approximately $20 million. The Charles Schwab Challenge, which has a purse of $8.7 million, was not picked as an designated event.
According to sources, the PGA Tour approached Charles Schwab organizers last year about its event potentially becoming “designated.” The investment company declined.
To receive elevated status would have required an additional $12 million, nearly all of which would have come from the title sponsor. Other tournaments passed on this invite, too.
PGA Tour representatives would only say that it did go through an “education” process of the revamped schedule with all of its tournaments last year before making the announcement of the new format.
“The Charles Schwab Corporation is honored to play a role in the tradition of this celebrated tournament in Fort Worth and it further demonstrates our commitment to the broader Metroplex community that includes thousands of employees who are based in our global headquarters in nearby Westlake,” Charles Schwab said in a statement to the Star-Telegram.
“We are very pleased with our event and feel like we will continue to secure a great field for years to come, as demonstrated by another strong representation of the world’s best golfers this week. We are also very excited about the future of the Charles Schwab Challenge as we look forward to a fully restored Colonial Country Club course next year led by renowned golf course architect, Gil Hanse.”
Given the way this season on the PGA Tour is evolving, it’s easy to see why a title sponsor may be hesitant about spending as much as potentially $12 – $15 million more for a tournament.
There is a chance the CS Challenge could bid to become a “designated” tournament next season, but nothing is imminent.
The initial thought was that designated tournaments would draw the best fields, and would impact both ticket sales and TV ratings.
In reality, at least with the 2023 CS Challenge, you can still have a pretty good field without that investment; with Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland, this year’s field features nine of the top 20 players on the tour.
“This is a place a lot of guys enjoy coming here,” Burns said. “They enjoy the golf course. These types of tournaments have been around for a long time, and people have a ton of respect for.
“I know it’s in a weird part of the schedule where the Majors fall. I think going forward, guys have a tone of respect for this event and they’ll make it a priority to be here.”
Some of this sounds like, and is, rah-rah rhetoric. Most of it is the truth.
Golf has few names that are big outside of the sport that affect TV ratings, or ticket sales. Would the 2023 Charles Schwab Challenge feel dramatically different had Rory McIlroy or Patrick Cantlay showed?
Not by a lot.
As Tiger Woods ages and plays less, and Mickelson alienated his loyal fan base by going to LIV Golf, the sport has not organically found their replacements.
Tiger may prove to be Halley’s Comet, only that comes around more often than a golfer who made every one stop to watch golf. Tiger affects attendance, not Cameron Smith.
Hard core golf fans know Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, both of whom play for LIV Golf, but their presence at the PGA Championship this year had no impact on ratings; despite the presence of a loaded field, the event drew its lowest TV ratings since 2008.
Golf fans are golf fans. They are as apt to watch a golf tournament featuring Jon Rahm as they are Jon Hamm.
LIV Golf is the biggest disruptor to the PGA Tour maybe ever, and its creation permanently changed pro golf.
LIV Golf has impacted Colonial and the Charles Schwab Challenge, but while this has all settled some it’s not over, either.
Because no one knows who will ultimately win LIV versus The Tour.