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Phil Mickelson: the downfall of America’s ‘apple pie’ golf champion

Six-time major winner has suffered a ‘spectacular decline in popularity’

A year ago, Phil Mickelson wrote himself into the record books by becoming the oldest golfer to win a major title, said Ewan Murray in The Observer. The then 50-year-old, long one of America’s most admired players, was “mobbed” by adoring fans after triumphing in the US PGA Championship. 

It’s not a scene you can imagine happening today, said Daniel Zeqiri in The Daily Telegraph. For in the past 12 months, the player known as “Phil the Thrill” has suffered a “spectacular decline in popularity”. His problems began in February, when it was revealed that he was considering joining a Saudi-backed rebel tour, led by the former Australian champion Greg Norman. The comments Mickelson made about the scheme made him appear insincere and duplicitous: he insisted it was worth taking seriously as it presented a “once in-a-lifetime opportunity” to reshape how the sport was run, yet at the same time described the Saudis as “scary motherf*****s”. Since then, Mickelson’s “apple pie” reputation has been further tarnished by revelations about the extent of his alleged gambling addiction: according to a new biography, he has frittered away $40m with it. 

All this means that the 2022 US PGA Championship opens this week with the sport in a state resembling “civil war”, said Derek Lawrenson in The Mail on Sunday. Most younger players – “happy with the amounts they make on the long-established PGA Tour” – want to maintain the status quo. Ranged against them are a few “grumpy old rebels” who are ready to “forsake their principles in favour of the easy millions on offer from the sportswashing Saudis”. 

Mickelson, who hasn’t played since January, won’t be in Oklahoma to defend his title, but other players linked to the Saudi scheme, including Sergio García, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, will be. It will make for a “sulphurous atmosphere”. 

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