Why Golf Needs 'Phil The Thrill' Back

Mickelson hasn't been the same since joining LIV Golf and the game is poorer for it

Phil Mickelson at the 2021 PGA Championship
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The 2023 Masters saw the return of Phil Mickelson, following his one-year hiatus after comments made about the Saudi bankrollers of LIV Golf sparked widespread controversy.

Mickelson told author and American sports writer Alan Shipnuck he was using the breakaway circuit as leverage in a bigger battle with the PGA Tour and called the Saudis "scary motherf******" for good measure.

The backlash to his comments was swift, the examination of what he said forensic, and the repercussions ongoing. He lost sponsors, fans, respect, sleep (probably), among other things.

Subsequently, the six-time Major winner announced he'd be taking a leave of absence from the game "to work on being the man I want to be." The next time we saw him was at the Centurion Club, just outside of London, after ultimately deciding the Saudis weren't so bad after all. 

However, the Mickelson that turned up for the inaugural LIV Golf dust-up was a shell of his former self. Gone was the sharp wit and bubbly personality. In its place, a forlorn-looking figure who appeared terrified to speak his mind. 

Understandably so, many will argue. Maybe it's the only way he feels confident he won't land himself in more trouble in this hyper-sensitive era. But the contrast to what came before is stark.

In his pomp, everything he did was box-office - from the good and bad all the way through to the ugly. And there was no shortage of all three. His nickname 'Phil The Thrill' was well earned.

Take his last Major success as case in point. Mickelson rolled back the years to win the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and become the game's oldest Major champion at age 51. Another fitting moniker.

That iteration was obsessed with "hitting bombs" but it was a trademark hole-out from the greenside bunker on the 5th on the final day that got his historic Sunday back on track as he tamed the beast Brooks Koepka.

Watching reruns of previous Masters tournaments ahead of the 87th edition was a reminder of how much we took those moments for granted and how much better golf is when Mickelson is in contention, especially at Augusta National

Only Tiger Woods can boast greater popularity at the Georgia venue. But where Woods has had more success and titles, he could only dream of matching Mickelson's charisma.

There are legendary tales from years gone by of mid-tournament gambling with media members and TV execs. "He needed that juice," Shipnuck wrote. Now, the only juice he needs is the one that keeps his weight down.

At Augusta National this week, he was said to have kept almost completely silent during the Champions Dinner. In his first round, he hit a driver off the deck from the pine straw and a shot right-handed en route to a one-under 71. But where that would have once been unmissable, it's become missable.

Watching and listening to the high-octane left-hander used to be about the most fun you could have as a golf fan. Whether you loved him or loathed him, you tuned in to watch him. As this latest version, he can now pass through a tournament largely undetected.

It's hard to remember even seeing a shot of his during the first two days at Augusta, despite posting four-under which, at the time of writing, has him tied for 11th.

Mickelson might have announced his return last June but he left Phil The Thrill behind, and golf is far worse off for it.

Andrew Wright
Freelance News Writer

A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he decided to go freelance and now covers a variety of topics for Golf Monthly. 

Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.

As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.

What's in Andy's bag?

Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15°)

Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)

Irons: Mizuno mp32 (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)

Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2.5

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x