US Open 2022: Why is Phil Mickelson allowed to play after joining Saudi-backed LIV Golf?

PGA Tour suspends players participating in LIV Golf series

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Phil Mickelson is set to return to a more familiar setting at the US Open after he made countless headlines since switching from the PGA Tour to the controversial LIV Golf Series. The Saudi-backed series hosted its inaugural event last weekend, and now Mickelson is looking to win a seventh major title and complete the career Grand Slam.

The highly-anticipated LIV Golf series made its anticipated debut at The Centurion Club in St Albans last weekend, with the likes of Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia headlining a mixed field in terms of big name pull and talent. Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, secured a one-stroke victory and a £3.86 million payout with a one-stroke victory. 

The Saudi-backed LIV series is the most lucrative golf tournament in history. Its $25million (£20million) prize dwarfs the £7million on offer at the Canadian Open, the PGA Tour event won by Rory McIlroy last weekend.

The PGA Tour either accepted the resignations or suspended players who have switched to the LIV series, which consist of 54-hole events and no cuts. Mickelson was suspended with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan insisting they had ‘decided to turn their backs’ on the tour.

Mickelson is immensely popular but faced a barrage of disapproval after remarks were made public earlier this year in which he criticised the Saudi government for its ‘horrible’ human rights record but said he would use the prospect of LIV Golf to gain economic leverage over the PGA Tour. The 51-year-old apologised for his remarks and announced in February that he was taking time away from the game, opting out of the Masters and his title defence at the PGA Championship but revealed he will compete at the US Open and he planned to compete in next month’s Open Championship at St Andrews.

So how can Mickelson compete at the majors while suspended from the PGA Tour? The governing bodies that stage the four majors – Augusta National Golf Club (Masters), USGA (U.S. Open), PGA of America (PGA Championship) and the R&A (The Open) – have supported the PGA Tour and DP Tour (formerly the European Tour) in the past, but they are yet to ban players who are competing in the LIV Golf circuit.

The U.S. Open will be played at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, on June 16-19 – five days after the completion of the London event. A dozen players in the LIV field, including Mickelson, Johnson, Garcia, Gooch, Grace, Na and Oosthuizen, are already exempt from qualifying for the U.S. Open.

On Tuesday, the USGA announced it wouldn’t prevent players in the LIV events from competing in the U.S. Open.

“Regarding players who may choose to play in London this week, we simply asked ourselves this question – should a player who had earned his way into the 2022 U.S. Open, via our published field criteria, be pulled out of the field as a result of his decision to play in another event? And we ultimately decided that they should not,” the USGA said.

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When talking at the Masters in April, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said the iconic and revered club supported the current golf system. However, Masters champions are immensely respected by the club and it is difficult to imagine the likes of Mickelson, Garcia, Johnson and Schwartzel denied entry after claiming a green jacket. 

“I would start by saying that our mission is always to act in the best interests of the game in whatever form that may take,” Ridley said two months ago. “I think that golf’s in a good place right now. There’s more participation. Purses on the professional tours are the highest they have ever been.

“We have been pretty clear in our belief that the world tours have done a great job in promoting the game over the years. Beyond that, there’s so much that we don’t know about what might happen or could happen that I just don’t think I could say much more beyond that.”

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