TULSA, Okla. — Rory McIlroy described Phil Mickelson‘s absence from the 2022 PGA Championship as “unfortunate” and “sad” Tuesday morning at Southern Hills Country Club and said he wished the defending champion had made a different decision and come to the championship.
“This should be a celebration, right?” McIlroy said. “He won a major championship at 50 years old. It was possibly his last big, big moment in the game of golf. I think he should be here this week and celebrating what a monumental achievement he achieved last year.”
McIlroy paused as he weighed how his words would be received.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “It’s sad. Yeah, I don’t know what else I can say.”
Said 15-time major champion Tiger Woods: “It’s always disappointing when the defending champion is not here. Phil has said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the tour and committed to the legacy of the tour have pushed back against, and he’s taken some personal time, and we all understand that.
“But as we all know, as a professional, we miss him being out here. I mean, he’s a big draw for the game of golf. He’s just taking his time, and we all wish him the best when he comes back.
“Obviously, we’re going to have difference of opinions, how he sees the tour, and we’ll go from there.”
Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America, called Mickelson’s absence “the elephant in the room.”
“Look, no one was more excited than us last year when Phil had his epic win, right? It’s amazing. He’s done something nobody else has ever done and win a major at 50. It was one of the great moments in golf, and we’ll never sort of forget it. We certainly looked forward to him defending.
“He’s not here. It’s his choice,” Waugh added. “He and I have had some conversations before, during and after, and I can really say that on Friday his camp called and said he’s not ready to play. Obviously we respect that. We understand it. We wish nothing but the best for him and Amy. He’s going through a lot. I don’t really have a whole lot more to say. We’re disappointed he’s not here, and again, wish him all the best.”
Mickelson became golf’s oldest major champion by winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in South Carolina at age 50 last year. He hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in late January. He skipped the Masters in April for the first time in 27 years and had played in every PGA Championship since 1992, winning twice.
Mickelson said, in a February statement, that he is taking time away from golf after his controversial comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian financiers of a breakaway circuit were published by author Alan Shipnuck, who wrote an unauthorized Mickelson biography that was released this week.
Mickelson, popularly known as “Lefty,” criticized the PGA Tour for its “greed” and said he was looking past the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s alleged human rights violations to gain leverage with the tour.
Jon Rahm — who, like Mickelson, played at Arizona State — said he wished the six-time major champion were here.
“Phil has got to do what Phil has got to do,” Rahm said. “He’s a good friend of mine. I can’t remember the last time a major champion didn’t defend a title. But he’s got to do what’s best for him. That’s all I can say. I can’t say it makes me unhappy.
“As long as he’s doing what is best for him, I can’t truly say I’m unhappy. I would have liked to see him defend. I know he’s played good here in the past. But again, he’s got to do what he’s got to do.”
Since 1960, only five major champions have not defended their title the next year. Before Mickelson, none of them did so willingly. Art Wall missed the 1960 Masters with a kidney ailment and knee injury. Payne Stewart was killed in a plane crash before the 2000 U.S. Open. Woods missed the 2008 PGA Championship when he elected to repair a torn ACL. McIlroy missed the 2015 Open Championship recovering from a high ankle sprain he incurred while playing soccer with friends.
Mickelson did not issue a statement explaining why he was skipping the PGA Championship; he merely informed the organization he wouldn’t be in the field.
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach contributed to this report.