AUGUSTA, GA — Phil Mickelson was greeted with a quiet, faint applause when he was introduced on Thursday’s first tee to start his 30th appearance in the Masters tournament. All members of the rebel, Saudi-backed LIV Golf field at his circuit were treated much the same in the opening round. Not shunned, just unwelcome.
When Mickelson walked down the first fairway on Thursday, he was surrounded by a hallway of nearly silent fans.
In the final round of the 2023 Masters on the 18th green late Sunday afternoon, Mickelson sank a twisting downhill putt for birdie and pumped his left fist twice as he went to retrieve the ball. but could not be heard as the thousands of fans surrounding the green stood up and chanted their approval. Immediately, the gallery chanted “Phil.”
Mickelson, who finished tied for second at eight under par, may have understood better than anyone how much he had changed in four days.
This year’s Masters is the sport’s most watched tournament, the first men’s major of the year, and a match between LIV’s rebels and pros, coinciding with the PGA Tour at historic Augusta National Golf. It was the first direct confrontation. A club that represents traditional golf in every way. Mickelson has always been the star of the Exiles and took the brunt of the heat last year for turning his back on the established golf world, voluntarily pulling out of the 2022 Masters.
And now, after one of the best final rounds of the tournament, Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, was celebrated with rapturous cheers, as if nothing had changed.
As his playing partner on Sunday, Jordan Spieth said afterwards, “It felt like eight, nine, or ten years ago.”
Spieth also played well on Sunday, shooting 66 to Mickelson’s 65 and having first-hand experience of what it was like to play with Mickelson many years ago.
“I played with him three or four times here on Sunday,” said Spieth, who finished in a three-way tie for fourth at 7-under par. “And I didn’t feel any different then.”
That is the most important point of this year’s Masters. The LIV player said Augusta he may not have won in his four days at the National, but he did not lose as many expected. The reception Mickelson received proved that many golf fans had not drawn a line in the sand against this golf feud.
The LIV golfer occupied three spots in the top 10, including Mickelson’s rival Brooks Koepka. He was elected 12 out of 18 participants. At least for a week he seemed so insignificant that the TV ratings for his LIV event in the US this year were embarrassingly low. Conversations about the relevance of LIV were led by Mickelson and he changed for a week. Claims that his 54-hole event at LIV was merely an exhibition to prepare players for major competition would now be lessened. Mickelson, 52, certainly showed plenty of stamina and class heading into Sunday’s final round. And he predicted before the tournament that he would “be in tears.”
Mickelson wasn’t playing particularly well during his tenure at LIV, and many in golf didn’t take the prediction seriously.
Mickelson said after Sunday’s round, “I reassured myself that I knew I was getting close and was hitting quality shots.” I didn’t take a loose swing with good timing.
Mickelson even had a beaming smile. As Augusta stood in front of his National clubhouse and put the logo of his LIV-his team (HyFlyers), which he captains, on the chest of his hat and black pullover, he understood the moment.
“This is a lot of fun,” he said. “Again, we are grateful to be able to play and compete here.”
He added a casual, cheeky and blatant comment — what else would you expect from Phil Mickelson’s press conference? People’s performance made it obviously more accurate.
“I think it’s great to have the best players in the world in this tournament,” he said with a different smile. “It means a lot.”
Mickelson is correct. At least for now, his and his brother’s performances within the LIV have made a statement at the 2023 Masters. For one thing, the supposed civil war between fairways and greens never materialized. Golfers from both tours got along well. OK, not all his LIV representatives were as welcoming as the likable Cameron Smith, but when he was on the PGA Tour, some of the LIV were less well-liked.
Finally, four days at the Masters proved that the LIV circuit is going nowhere. This isn’t exactly a positive development for the growing community of golf fans. Because with the exception of the majors (for now, or until some exemptions for LIV golfers expire), it means the tournament field will be sparse and some big names will be lost.
Mickelson’s cheers late on Sunday were genuine and understandable. But subconsciously, those applause may have indicated something golf fans were missing. The whole gang was united again.