Fitter Mickelson expecting a ‘really good year’

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Phil Mickelson said he’s as light as he has been in three decades and will be a little quieter on social media as he prepares to play in the LIV Golf League’s second season, which begins in Mexico next month.

Mickelson, speaking to reporters Tuesday ahead of this week’s PIF Saudi International in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia, said that he was embarrassed by how he played last year and that the difference between his game then and now is “night and day.”

“I have to look at last year as an anomaly and just let it go,” Mickelson said. “I wasn’t ready to play at the start; I wasn’t ready to play during [the season]; and this offseason I’m ready to play. I’ve been playing really well at home, and I’m ready to bring my game back out here and compete. I’m optimistic to see a whole different outlook, a whole different game, a whole different competitiveness.”

Mickelson, 52, was embroiled in controversy for much of 2022, after author Alan Shipnuck published his controversial comments about the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s history of human rights violations, and how he was using LIV Golf as leverage against the PGA Tour.

Mickelson, who reportedly received a $200 million signing bonus from LIV Golf, was among the players suspended by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan for competing in LIV Golf tournaments without conflicting-event releases. Mickelson was among the LIV Golf players who filed a federal antitrust suit against the PGA Tour, although he later removed himself as a plaintiff in the case.

“I have a whole different energy, whole different excitement,” Mickelson said. “I’ve been rejuvenated. Best shape I’ve been in in a long time. I’m back to my college weight. It allows me to recover faster after I play. I’m changing some of the ways I practice to be more efficient. Rather than quantity, it’s much more quality driven, and I’m seeing a difference when I go out and play in the way I am kind of pulling the shots off on the golf course.”

Mickelson, a six-time major champion, finished in the top 15 in just one of seven LIV Golf events in 2022; his average finish in the other six was 34th. He finished 34th in the circuit’s individual championship points race.

“I’m embarrassed with how I played last year,” Mickelson said. “I’m going to put that behind me and have a really good year.”

After losing many of his longtime sponsors in the wake of his controversial comments, Mickelson hadn’t been active on social media very much — until this past week, when he tweeted about Rory McIlroy holding a 54-hole lead in Dubai and Sam Ryder’s jogger pants. Mickelson even engaged with a few followers who left comments.

“I’ve had a lot of fun with it over the years, and this last year I’ve kind of gone dark, if you will, and rightfully so,” Mickelson said. “I have to be very careful; I can’t say all the things I want to say yet. But maybe this year I’ll be able to. I’ll have that freedom when some of these things going on off the course get settled and become more transparent. I have to be a little bit guarded right now, but later this year when things are much more transparent, I’ll be able to be more engaging.”

Although Mickelson is banned from playing in PGA Tour events, he has exemptions into each of the four majors for at least the next three years after he became the oldest major champion by winning the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Last season, Mickelson skipped the Masters, an event he has won three times, as well as the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, where he was the defending champion.

Mickelson said he enjoyed watching McIlroy and LIV Golf’s Patrick Reed compete in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic on Monday. Mickelson predicted that there could be more showdowns coming between players from rival tours in the near future.

An arbitration panel in London is scheduled to hear arguments beginning Monday about whether the DP World Tour can ban members who joined LIV Golf from playing in its events. A ruling isn’t expected for several weeks.

“I thought it was great for the game to have that type of interest, and it’s been interest throughout the globe,” Mickelson said. “That’s a really good thing. In a couple of weeks, I expect that the players, the LIV players, will win their case in the UK and we’ll open the doors for all players to play on the European Tour. There’s a very good chance that you’ll have more showdowns, more head-to-head competitions like you saw last week in Dubai, and I think that would be a really good thing for the game.”

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