As Phil Mickelson departs U.S. Open, what will become of his major future?


BROOKLINE, Mass. – The U.S. Open Trophy was perched just a few yards from Phil Mickelson as he wrapped up his week on the south end of Boston. It never felt further away.

Lefty’s pursuit of the one thing that stood between he and golf immortality has felt washed for years. A six-time runner-up at his national championship, the air was flushed from the room after he played ping-pong with a moving ball in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills. Golf’s rules can be painfully stoic, but that was a line even the casual fan couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate.

But then given the current landscape in a fractured professional world, shorting yourself in pursuit of the career Grand Slam seems hackneyed in retrospect.

For decades, Mickelson has embraced his role as a tragic hero. When he lost the 2002 U.S. Open to Tiger Woods – and, to be fair, he lost that title – he was still elevated to “People’s Champ.” When he kicked away the ’06 edition at Winged Foot, there was an element of sympathy in his dramatic 72nd hole meltdown.

So many have lost the U.S. Open, but none have done it so many ways, and none so often.

But as Lefty put the finishing touches on a miserable week at The Country Club, there was no longer any forlorn honor in his pursuit. Instead, there was a surreal finality to it all.

Mickelson’s quest for the career Grand Slam is over – that’s just a fact. But as he packed the courtesy car and headed toward an uncertain and controversial future as the face of LIV Golf, there was another possible finale that was impossible to ignore. The 2022 U.S. Open could be Lefty’s final PGA Tour-sanctioned event in the United States.

Mickelson was one of 17 Tour members who were immediately and indefinitely suspended for violating the circuit’s regulations for playing the first LIV event last week. Unlike Dustin Johnson and Kevin Na, Lefty did not resign his Tour membership. But as the divide between the Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV series widens, there doesn’t seem to be a path back.

Without some sort of unforeseen and unlikely reconciliation, Lefty’s days on Tour are over. The only remaining question is whether he’ll become persona non grata at the major championships?

The USGA allowed those who bolted for LIV Golf to play this week’s championship, but officials stopped well short of offering a blanket pass in the future.

“Could [I] envision a day where it would be harder for some folks [LIV Golf members] doing different things to get into a U.S. Open? I could. Will that be true? I don’t know, but I can definitely foresee that day,” USGA CEO Mike Whan said this week.

The PGA of America, which runs the PGA Championship, was even more clear. At last month’s championship, where Mickelson was the defending champion but did not compete, CEO Seth Waugh went so far as to explain the potential mechanism that could be used to keep the LIV players out.

“Our bylaws do say that you have to be a recognized member of a recognized tour in order to be a PGA member somewhere, and therefore eligible to play [the PGA Championship],” Waugh explained.

The Masters and Augusta National were more vague when pressed for a position in April, but seemed to suggest that the “current ecosystem” is also what they’re comfortable with.

“I would start by saying that our mission is always to act in the best interests of the game in whatever form that may take,” said Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley. “I think that golf’s in a good place right now. There’s more participation. Purses on the professional tours are the highest they have ever been.

“We have been pretty clear in our belief that the world tours have done a great job in promoting the game over the years. Beyond that, there’s so much that we don’t know about what might happen or could happen that I just don’t think I could say much more beyond that.”

As a former champion, Mickelson – along with LIV contemporaries Johnson, Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed – enjoys a lifetime invitation into the Masters. The key to that exemption, however, is invitation, and unlike the other three majors, Augusta National clearly has a freer hand when it comes to its field.

The R&A appears poised to also allow the LIV players who are qualified for next month’s Open Championship to participate. But beyond 2022, the association has been noticeably quiet on the topic. Even if golf’s oldest championship, which Mickelson won and is also exempt into for the next decade-plus, allows the LIV players a future runway, Lefty’s plight is unchanged.

A player who began his PGA Tour career by winning as an amateur could well have completed his Tour run on U.S. soil with rounds of 78-73 and a tie for 143rd out of 156 players. Mickelson seemed to sense the inglorious ending when asked in a brief exit interview how it felt to be back inside the ropes at a major, following a four-month hiatus from the game.

“I missed competing, but I also enjoyed some time away,” he said after a long pause, cautious and clipped to the end.

Perhaps there’s a way back for Mickelson. Perhaps his time on Tour, which began at Torrey Pines in 1988, isn’t over. But as he bolted Brookline, it felt as if there was so much more than the U.S Open Trophy in his rearview mirror.

Brooks Koepka wins third Wanamaker Trophy, fifth major title at PGA Championship


Brooks Koepka promised Sunday at Oak Hill would not be a reprise of Sunday at Augusta National.

Koepka held true to his word, shooting 3-under 67 to win the PGA Championship, finishing at 9 under, two in front of Scottie Scheffler (65) and Viktor Hovland (68).

Koepka and Hovland, playing together in the final pairing, were separated by one stroke at the par-4 16th, when Hovland hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker on the right. The previous day, leader Corey Conners was in the same spot and drilled his approach into the face of the bunker. He had to take an unplayable lie and made double bogey, losing the lead for good.

Incredibly, Hovland did the same thing on Sunday, losing any chance he had at his first major title.

Koepka, for his part, birdied the 16th and led by four shots with two to play. He closed with an innocuous bogey at the 17th and a par at the 18th.

This was Kopeka’s fifth major championship win and his third Wanamaker Trophy (2018, ’19). He joined James Braid, John Henry Taylor, Byron Nelson, Peter Thomson and Seve Ballesteros at 15th on the all-time major-victory list.

It marked his ninth career PGA Tour title and first since February 2021.

It was in that same month, a year later, that Koepka made clear his intention to remain on the PGA Tour, saying of the fledgling Saudi-led rival league, “They’ll get their guys. Somebody will sell out and go to it.”

Four months later, Koepka was one of those guys.

Koepka claimed his first of two LIV titles in October and the second in April, the week before the Masters Tournament. It was in the season’s first major where Koepka led by two shots entering the final round (after completing a delayed Round 3 early that Sunday) but closed in 75 to finish T-2 behind Jon Rahm.

This Saturday, once again with a lead through 54 holes of a major, Koepka was confident – though, coy with his reasons why – that this championship would end differently.

Or, similarly, to that of Bellerive and Bethpage Black.

It appeared that the 105th edition of the PGA was over 45 minutes after the final group teed off in the final round.

Koepka birdied three of his first four holes and led by three shots.

He was perfection personified, expertly positioning his tee shots and precisely hitting his irons. But a sliced drive off the sixth tee led to bogey and he made another at the seventh. By the turn, he was at 7 under par, one clear of Hovland with Scheffler at 4 under through 11 holes.

Scheffler managed to reach 7 under par for the championship, but never got closer than within two strokes.

It was ultimately a battle between the final two men on the course, with Koepka consistently managed to stay out front. He went birdie-bogey-birdie to start the inward half as Hovland strung together a trio of pars. The Norwegian birdied the par-5 13th and could have drawn even, but Koepka converted a slick, downhill, 10-footer for par to remain one up.

Both men made birdie at the drivable, 320-yard, par-4 14th and both men parred 15.

Then came the 16th, where Hovland thinned his second shot from the fairway sand into the bottom portion of the bunker lip. His ball embedded, Hovland took a penalty stroke and a drop. His double bogey, combined with Koepka’s birdie, ended all of the drama.

But Oak Hill was not devoid of cheers Sunday evening. Club pro Michael Block, playing alongside Rory McIlroy, had a slam-dunk hole-in-one at the par-3 15th and then made an incredible par save from well left of the 18th green. His closing 1-over 71 placed him in a tie for 15th and earned him a spot in next year’s field at Valhalla.

The last time the Louisville, Kentucky course hosted a PGA, McIlroy claimed his second Wanamaker Trophy and his fourth – and most recent – major. The Northern Irishman energized the western New York crowd this Sunday by sticking his approach shot at the first hole to a foot. The birdie got him within four of the lead, but he short-sided himself – from the fairway – at No. 2 and immediately gave the shot back. McIlroy shot 1-under 69 and tied for seventh.

While his major wait will extend to Los Angeles Country Club in June, Koepka will arrive looking for a third U.S. Open title.

And after his performances in the first two majors of the season, he will likely be the favorite.

Rahm wins his first Masters, second major

Michael Madrid / USA TODAY NETWORK

By Golf Channel’s Mercer Baggs

In the end, there was sun. The storms and the suspensions, the muck and the mud, the wind and the chill, it all gave way to a glorious Easter afternoon in Augusta, Georgia.

Basking in that fading daylight was Jon Rahm.

Rahm won the 87th Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, completing 30 holes on Sunday for his second major title.

The 28-year-old Spaniard, who won the 2021 U.S. Open, added a green jacket to his collection, closing in 3-under 69. He finished four shots clear of three-time champ Phil Mickelson, who, at 52, became the oldest player in Masters history to record a top-5.

Also in second place was Brooks Koepka, the man who started an elongated Sunday with a four-shot lead. The four-time major champion played his final 30 holes in 5 over par, closing with a 75.

This is Rahm’s fourth win of the year and the 11th of his PGA Tour career. Once again, he’s world No. 1.

Golf is analogous to boxing – in ways both trite and appropriate – when individuals go head-to-head, and for the better part of two weekend days, this Masters felt like a heavyweight tilt with two of its heaviest hitters.

Only, no big punches landed for nearly a round and a half.

Rahm and Koepka began their Sunday wrapping up the seventh hole of the third round. Koepka missed an 11-foot par putt and Rahm made a 9-foot birdie putt. Koepka’s overnight advantage was cut in half, to two.

They both birdied the par-5 eighth, but neither man made a birdie over the second nine, both playing it in 2-over 38. The margin was still two entering the final round, in which one continued to fail in pulling away from the other.

That inability offered opportunity.

Some, like defending champion Scottie Scheffler and ’18 winner Patrick Reed, made cameo appearances. Others offered a more serious threat. Jordan Spieth, the 2015 champ, was within two before a pulled tee shot on 18 led to bogey.

His playing competitor, Mickelson, birdied the last – one of five birdies over his final seven holes – to shoot a 65 that was more brilliant than it was surprising. Even without a seventh major title, Mickelson triumphantly walked off the 18th green just as the final twosome was entering the second nine.

Ultimately, this was Koepka vs. Rahm. Not LIV vs. PGA Tour. Not Evil vs. Good. Just two men, playing for themselves and their legacies.

For Rahm, a chance to join Seve, Ollie and Sergio to put the red and yellow into green. For Koepka, a chance to be a claret jug away from immortality.

But after 13 birdies and an eagle in his first 44 holes, Koepka couldn’t buy one over an agonizing stretch of the next 22.

His dropped shot at the par-3 sixth cost him a share of the lead and he fell two back when Rahm birdied the par-5 eighth. Koepka never got closer. A sloppy bogey at the par-3 12th dropped him three back and, despite finally getting a red number at the par-5 13th, Rahm did the same.

The knockout blow – to revive the pugilist parallel – came one hole later, where Rahm hit a stinging cut from the pine straw to 4 feet. He made birdie while Koepka made bogey.

From there it was just a matter of not messing up and, despite a wayward tee shot on the 72nd hole, Rahm obliged. He parred his final four holes and, with a four-shot lead and safely on the green at 18, was able to enjoy the walk up the last. His family, his friends and his countryman, two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, embraced the champion of the 87th Masters before he headed to Butler Cabin to receive his green jacket.