Disgraced golfing great Phil Mickelson was nowhere near the Southern Hills Country Club this week, and even his name was avoided like the plague.
The 2021 PGA Championship hero opted not to defend his title and, if he had chosen to, it’s likely he would have wandered the fairways in relative silence given the cold shoulder professional golf is imposing on the 51-year-old.
Mickelson remains in exile from the PGA Tour over his involvement in the rebel LIV Golf league, headed by controversial Aussie icon Greg Norman and set to kick off in England next month.
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As defending winner he should have been hosting the champions’ dinner on Tuesday night. Mickelson was nowhere to be seen.
“It was a fun evening. Phil was not missed,” two-time PGA Championship winner Dave Stockton said. “Phil would have been a big distraction.”
But while everyone at Southern Hills was desperately trying to avoid the Mickelson firestorm, fate determined he wasn’t far away from the wild fourth-day playoff action, and the trophy presentation.
Mickelson’s former long-time caddy, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay, was on the bag for 2022 champion Justin Thomas.
Mackay worked as Mickelson’s right-hand man for 25 years before the pair parted ways in 2017. He won the 2005 PGA Championship with ‘Lefty’ – one of five majors they celebrated together.
This time, it was 57-year-old Mackay drinking in another Championship victory, while his former boss Mickelson was left wondering what might have been, if only he had chosen to snub the Saudi riches on offer elsewhere.
Mickelson last year became the oldest major winner in golf history, claiming the Championship at 50 years old.
Mackay wasn’t on the bag for that victory but Thomas – 29 years old – this week reaped the rewards of the experience ‘Bones’ gained in two-and-a-half decades on tour with the now-disgraced icon.
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After a poor third round almost left Thomas out of contention – he came from eight shots off the lead to win the tournament on Monday (AEST) – it was a pep talk from his caddy that put him on track to a stunning win.
“I’m fully confident in saying that I wouldn’t be standing here if he didn’t give me that… wasn’t necessarily a speech, but a talk, if you will,” Thomas told media after lifting the coveted Wanamaker Trophy .
“I just needed to let some steam out. I didn’t need to bring my frustration and anger home with me. I didn’t need to leave the golf course in a negative frame of mind.
“I played pretty well yesterday (third round) for shooting four over, and I felt like I’d played terrible. And (Mackay) was just like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to stop being so hard on yourself. You’ re in contention every single week we’re playing.”
Mackay was asked about the rev-up – like so many he would have offered to Mickelson in their 25 years – as he helped another superstar to a major victory.
“The gist of it was simply that there is nothing out here that you need to fix,” Mackay said.
“The round could easily have been 69 or 70, but he shot 74. That was the number on the card, but there was nothing to fix. And he had a great range session to wrap up the day.”
As a teary Thomas celebrated his playoff victory over Will Zalatoris with his parents and fiancee, his caddy was seen taking a quiet moment for himself at the edge of the 18th green.
Mackay was clearly emotional – perhaps reminiscing on his past successes with a different player – and could only offer a few words when asked what this comeback win meant for him.
“It means a lot,” he said.
It was Mackay’s first appearance at a golf major since his split with Mickelson five years ago.
After those two had parted ways, ‘Bones’ took up a commentary gig with NBC and Golf Channel. He was on the verge of extending that contract when he received an unexpected phone call from Thomas towards the end of 2021.
Mackay thought his caddying days were done. There was only one player who could have convinced him out of retirement.
“There were always three or four guys initially when I started in TV that I felt if they got in touch, you’d have to take a serious look at it,” Mackay told Sports Illustrated in February.
“That dwindled to three and then two. And then it just became one. Not in a million years did I think it was going to come around. But when Justin called me, I was surprised as anybody. And he was the one.
“I had told my wife if Justin Thomas ever calls me, I’ve got some thinking to do. Because there’s something about him as a person and a player that I really, really like.”
Now ‘Bones’ Mackay can add a sixth major trophy to his caddy cabinet.
Michaelson? For now, he will remain in the sporting wilderness.
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