TULSA, Okla. – Phil Mickelson isn’t even in Southern Hills and he’s still the talk of Tulsa.
Hardly a player could escape the microphone on Tuesday without addressing Mickelson’s decision to skip the PGA Championship after his inflammatory comments about a Saudi-funded rival league he supports clashing with the PGA Tour.
Mickelson also skipped the Masters. But the PGA Championship seems like an even bigger deal. It was supposed to be Lefty’s victory lap after his stunning victory last year at 50.
“Unfortunate. Sad,” said Rory McIlroy. thinks he should be here this week and celebrate the monumental achievement he made last year.
Jon Rahm called Mickelson a “good friend” who did what was best for him.
“I can’t remember the last time a major champion didn’t defend a title,” Rahm said. “I would have liked to see him defend. … (But) he has to do what he has to do.
Tiger Woods also called it “disappointing” not to have the defending champion up front. Then he addressed the issue of Saudi-funded events.
“Phil said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to touring and committed to the touring legacy rejected, and he took some personal time,” Woods said. “And we all understand that.”
However, not everyone was too engrossed in the missing champion.
“Not here. There really isn’t much else I can say,” said two-time PGA champion Brooks Koepka, who was outplayed by Mickelson in the last duet last year.
Justin Thomas wanted to focus on the week ahead.
“I don’t really have an opinion. I never wish harm on anyone. It’s just that I’m here to try to win a golf tournament and try to win the PGA Championship,” Thomas said.
A player’s putting coach is supposed to calm his nerves, not irritate them.
Koepka was late for his press conference and practice round after having coach Jeff Pierce lock the car keys with his golf bag in the trunk of his courtesy vehicle.
Koepka seemed more amused than annoyed.
“I watched him unlock the car, start the car, then he grabbed the bag, put it in the trunk, closed the trunk, and I got in and grabbed a hat, got out all away, then the car was locked,” Koepka mentioned. “I don’t know how the keys got locked inside the car. That beats me. I didn’t think a car was supposed to do that, but apparently it does.
Koepka briefly considered calling a transport service, but it was no use as he would have to leave his clubs behind. He waited for a spare key to arrive.
“I’m just glad it didn’t happen on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday,” he said.
Bryson DeChambeau practiced Tuesday to test his surgically repaired left wrist. He said he would play this week if there were “no major issues”.
“I will test how I feel over the next two days and decide whether or not to participate,” he tweeted on Monday. “I can’t wait to be in Tulsa.
He was on the course Tuesday afternoon, wearing a sling that extended several inches to his left forearm.
The 28-year-old underwent surgery to repair the hamate bone in his wrist on April 14, a procedure which was expected to sideline him for up to two months. He removed his cast and bandages more than a week ago and teased an early comeback when he posted a video online of himself punching a driver.
A trip to the concession stand for a chill during a hot, sunny week is likely to cause sticker shock for some fans.
Beers are $18 or $19 in Southern Hills. Cocktails are $19.
Wine? It’s the cheap stuff at $13.
“$18 (!!!!!!!) for a beer… uhhh what. Gotta treat the fans better than that! Thomas tweeted to his 539,000 followers on Monday.
“I was blown away because I’ve never seen an $18 or $19 beer in my life,” Thomas said Tuesday. “Guys talked about it, so I, you know, I had to stand up for the fans. I felt like it was fair.
Koepka noted that the beer cans are very large – 25 ounces, to be exact. So you pay more, you get more.
“It’s bigger than the normal ones, so it’ll be fine,” Koepka said. “You drink enough, you’ll be fine.”
Nine PGA Championship players played in the 2009 US Amateur at Southern Hills, including Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, and all are hoping for better results on Perry Maxwell’s restored masterpiece this week.
Fowler, who turned pro later that summer, lost 3-1 in the first round of match play. Talor Gooch and Brian Harman also fell in their opening matches, while Cameron Tringale was knocked out in the quarterfinals.
At least they survived two rounds of move play at Southern Hills and nearby Cedar Ridge Country Club.
Beau Hossler, an eighth grader at the time, missed the cut. Tom Hoge too. Patrick Reed blasted his way in with an 83 in Southern Hills. Spieth hit 75, shot 73 at Cedar Ridge, then lost in a 27-man playoff for the final four match play spots.
Then there was Patrick Cantlay, who was asked about his memories on Tuesday.
“I fired two shots in the ’80s,” he said, “and came home early.”