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Why Phil Mickelson is missing the Masters for the 1st time in nearly 3 decades

Phil Mickelson plays a shot on the fifth hole during the first round of The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on January 26, 2022 in La Jolla, California.
Sam Greenwood
Getty Images
Phil Mickelson plays a shot on the fifth hole during the first round of The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on January 26, 2022 in La Jolla, California.

Updated April 8, 2022 at 1:25 PM ET

Pro golfer Phil Mickelson personally reached out to officials at the Masters to say he wouldn't be playing in the storied tournament this year — though he would have been welcome to participate, according to Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley.

"I would like to say, we did not disinvite Phil," Ridley told the news media this week. "Phil is a three-time Masters champion and is invited in that category," and in others, including his status as the defending PGA champion, Ridley added.

"Phil reached out to me — I think it was in late February, early March — and let me know that he did not intend to play. That was by way of a text. And I thanked him for his courtesy in letting me know," Ridley said. It was "a very cordial exchange," he added.

Ridley's remarks aimed to dispel speculation that Mickelson wasn't invited to this year's tournament, or discouraged from participating, due to controversies over his statements about an upstart Saudi-backed pro golf league and how the PGA Tour operates.

Mickelson first played in the Masters in 1991, when he was a junior at Arizona State University. That year, he was invited as the defending U.S. Amateur champion. The 2022 tournament marks his first absence from the Augusta contest since 1994.

Mickelson's absence follows his comments on Saudi Arabia and the PGA

Mickelson has withdrawn from the public eye since Feb. 22, when he issued statements via Instagram and Twitter apologizing for controversial comments he made about the PGA and Saudi Arabia and saying that he needed "some time away."

Also commenting on Mickelson this week: Gary Player, the 86-year-old great who is now an "ambassador" for Golf Saudi, a Riyadh-based organization that promotes the sport in Saudi Arabia.

"I have a special thought on Phil Mickelson," Player said when asked about the former champion, saying Mickelson has been a strong promoter of pro golf who simply made a mistake, and who apologized for it.

"I think we live in a time now when we are such a judgmental society, a litigious society, a critical society, where people get crucified," Player said.

The Masters website lists Mickelson, 51, under the category of "past champions not playing." He also missed the Players Championship earlier this month.

In February, golf writer Alan Shipnuck published an excerpt from his upcoming biography of Mickelson in which the legendary golfer speaks candidly about the Saudi-backed Super Golf League, an upstart organization trying to draw in some of the sport's top talent.

"They're scary motherf****** to get involved with," Mickelson said in the interview posted on the golf website Fire Pit Collective.

"We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it?" he went on. "Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates."

Mickelson also said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan "won't do what's right" without leverage, which Mickelson said the Saudi financing provided. "I'm not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed," he added, "but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour."

After the interview became public in February, Mickelson said his comments were "reckless" and that he was "deeply sorry for my choice of words" while still noting that "golf desperately needs change."

Among Mickelson's criticisms is the refusal of the PGA to share revenue from the association's broadcast rights and digital assets with the players on the tour.

Speaking to the press earlier this month, Monahan declined to comment on any disciplinary matters related to Mickelson and said he would welcome a conversation with Mickelson about his return to the PGA Tour.

"Listen, he's a player that's won 45 times on the PGA Tour. He's had a Hall of Fame career. He's won here at the Players Championship," Monahan said, according to Golf Digest. "He's inspired a lot of people and helped grow this tour, his tour. So as difficult as it is to read some of the things that were said, ultimately a conversation will be had when he's ready to have it, and I will be ready to have it, as well."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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