R&A nudge led to absence from Open’s anniversary events, says Mickelson

Phil Mickelson has revealed that discussion about his not attending this week’s events for past champions in the buildup to the Open Championship was instigated by the R&A.

Mickelson was a notable absentee at a four-hole challenge for former Open winners on Monday and a dinner the following evening. The R&A had initially let it be known Mickelson had asked to be excused but the 52-year-old, who has been mired in controversy because of his attachment to the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Series, painted another picture after an opening round of 72 at St Andrews.

“The R&A contacted me a couple weeks before and said: ‘Look, we don’t think it’s a great idea you go, but if you want to, you can,’” Mickelson said. “I just didn’t want to make a big deal about it, so I said: ‘Fine.’ We both kind of agreed that it would be best if I didn’t.”

Greg Norman, who fronts the LIV operation, was not invited to the challenge or the dinner. Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods received honorary memberships of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club at the latter.

When asked about whether he was sad that he could not be present at celebrations to mark the 150th staging of the Open, Mickelson’s words belied the look in his eyes. “No, not at all,” said the 2013 champion. “I couldn’t be more excited and ecstatic with where I’m at.

“I love the [LIV] events. I get to have golf in my life and competitive golf in my life on a scale that is fun, exciting, different, and lets me play and compete but still do the things outside that I want to do. I’ve got a nice trip lined up after this and things that I haven’t been able to do in the past. So, no, I couldn’t be happier.”

Mickelson bridled at being asked by the Guardian how contentment at being on the outside looking in could possibly make sense. “Let it go, dude,” he said. “Let it go. That’s three times you’ve asked the same question. I don’t know what to tell you. I couldn’t be happier.”

To Mickelson’s credit, he did stand in front of the media for considerably longer than had initially seemed possible. Woods had lacerated the LIV concept before beginning his quest for a 16th major title. “I certainly respect his opinion,” Mickelson said. “I have a lot of respect for him. I respect his opinion. I think everybody’s going to have strong emotions and opinions about it and I certainly respect his.”

Not that, outwardly at least, Mickelson has any regrets whatsoever. He is banned from the PGA Tour and, majors aside, will feature in 54-hole events with no cut from now on. Mickelson has lost sponsors and seen his once spotless reputation trashed by the LIV saga.

“I made the right decision for me,” he said. “I’m excited about having the opportunity to play competitive golf and have it in my life in a more moderate scale to where I can do some things outside of that too. I freed up a lot of time as well.

“I couldn’t be happier. I think it’s been really good. I can’t wait to get to New Jersey and play another event there. The player experience, the experience of those events from a player standpoint is a 10. You can’t get it any better.

“It’s all going to play out in time. I think it’s all going to play out and end up where it should be in time.”

Ian Poulter, another LIV rebel, claimed he did not notice booing from the Open crowd that was audible on the 1st tee. Poulter made a three-under-par 69. “All I heard was clapping,” said Poulter.