AUGUSTA, Ga. — Back in 2004, there was an ad campaign created by Ford featuring spokesman Phil Mickelson and it asked this question: “What will Phil do next?’’
Never has that question been more relevant than it is right now. Because one thing Phil will not be doing next is teeing it up in Thursday’s first round of the Masters, a tournament he’s won three times and has played in every year since 1994.
And that’s a damn shame.
Mickelson, 51, the reigning PGA champion and still one of the most popular players in the history of the sport, has been essentially exiled since February after controversial comments he made to a reporter that he said were part of a private conversation were made public.
The reaction to his comments, which were critical of the PGA Tour and an admission that he was involved with a rival Saudi league, have left Mickelson alone on an island. In February, he issued a statement of apology and said he was going to take some time away from the game.
Mickelson subsequently didn’t play the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship, but it seemed unfathomable that, at his age with the window closing on his realistic chances of winning a fourth green jacket, he would voluntarily skip the Masters.
Yet here we are at the Masters with no Mickelson.
His absence sparked some theories — was he suspended by the PGA Tour (which inexplicably isn’t transparent on such issues) or did the Masters ask him not to come?
On Wednesday in his annual state-of-the-Masters press conference, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said the Masters had nothing to do with Mickelson not competing this year.
“We did not disinvite Phil,’’ Ridley said. “Phil is a three-time Masters Champion and is invited in that category and many other categories; he’s the defending PGA champion. 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.
“I thanked him for his courtesy in letting me know. I told him that we certainly appreciated that and told him that I was certainly willing to discuss that further with him if he’d like. He thanked me, and we had a very cordial exchange.’’
No one seems to know where Mickelson is or what his intentions are with regard to returning.
“I’ve tried to reach out, but he’s gone dark … there’s no contact,’’ Bryson DeChambeau said.
DeChambeau’s experience has been consistent with efforts by The Post to reach out to Mickelson with no response.
Mickelson’s choice of words was poor when he ripped the PGA Tour for what he described as its “obnoxious greed’’ in a Golf Digest interview. So, too, were they in the “private conversation’’ with reporter Alan Shipnuck calling the Saudi’s “scary motherf–kers’’ for their horrific human rights records while admitting he’d been using the Saudis and their money as leverage against the PGA Tour.
But the piling on against him has bordered on mob mentality.
Mickelson is a high-profile person who made a high-profile mistake and he’s been ostracized for it as if he’d spent the winter knocking out elderly women and stealing their purses.
Speaking last month, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, emboldened by almost all of the top-ranked players publicly stating their allegiance to the Tour and not the Saudis, showed an arrogant side when he made it sound like Mickelson would need to come to him and apologize before he was welcome to play again.
Fellow players — many of whom Mickelson has helped prosper financially on the PGA Tour — spoke out harshly against him, denouncing his comments. Rory McIlroy, one of those players critical of him, walked back some of his comments at Bay Hill, realizing he went over the top and called for forgiveness and a second chance.
Mickelson has not benefitted from either of those things thanks to cancel culture.
Twelve years ago, Tiger Woods — his reputation ravaged by his rampant extramarital affairs — was welcomed back to Augusta some five months after the sordid details were made public (albeit after an awkward and uncalled-for public scolding by then Augusta chairman Billy Payne). Now, Woods is like a deity when he walks around Augusta.
Will Mickelson one day be forgiven like Woods?
Meanwhile, we wait to see if Mickelson will be in Tulsa next month to defend the PGA Championship he won last year, when he became the oldest player ever to win a major championship.
If he’s not playing at Southern Hills in May, that’ll be as much a damn shame as him not being at Augusta this week.