Mickelsons no novice in the public relations department either. Often burned by the press, he rarely opens up these days on meaningful topics in big media gatherings, discussions usually limited to whether Phils going to use one or two drivers. The good stuffs reserved for the major magazines which offer the widest audience and the biggest splash. So just inside the press center at Bay Hill on a table to the left, there was Phils face'that faint smile, no teeth shown---on the cover of ESPN the Magazine. Lefty Cuts Loose was the headline.
A quick perusal revealed that on the subject of inferior equipment Phil was joking, suggesting that Tiger dominates without having gone to the super high tech gear most players had already put in their bags---the longer drivers, lighter shafts and monster heads. He wasnt bashing Nike, but people took the ball and ran with it anyway like Steve Nash and the Suns.
In any event, in the parking lot after his pro-am round, Tiger did open up to a small circle of reporters and while talking about power in the modern game unintentionally exonerated Phil on the long ago inferior equipment comment. I dont use raw power, said Tiger. If I really wanted to use raw power Id go to a spinnier ball and a lighter shafted driver like most of the guys and get an extra 20 yards. So the verdicts finally been rendered: Phil Mickelson, innocent on all counts on the charge of defamation of a manufacturers character.
Now if Tiger unknowingly offered an indirect defense of Phil, Phil on another matter stepped up vigorously in support of Tiger. Tigers preference for his newly announced AT&T National this July in Washington D.C. is for a reduced field.
Ive always liked reduced fields, Tiger said. Obviously play moves along a lot faster. You get around in a much more rhythmical pace. I think thats important.
But the ideas rankled some of the rank and file PGA Tour members who want more playing opportunities. Mickelsons certainly not rank and file, but he is inclined to look at the big picture.
I think its important for the TOUR to be in Washington D.C. and I think its important for The Tour to have a strong relationship with Tiger, Phil began.
He went to say that it would be a mistake for players to be short sighted. In Phils view, heres why. Tiger, Phil explained, generates so much excess revenue for The PGA TOUR. That revenue supports the four conflicting or opposite events, like the one just played in Mexico, opposite The Accenture Match Play. Those tournaments, Phil hinted, might not even exist were it not for the excess revenues'revenues in large part generated by Tiger.
Thats maybe 450 spots in a field so if Tiger wants to take away 20 to make his tournament more prestigious we shouldnt be narrow sighted, Phil said.
No ones suggesting they should again try to team up at a Ryder Cup, but the rivals are on the same page, and the hunch is they know it.
Email your thoughts to Rich Lerner