Phil Mickelson adjusts his cap as he walks towards the second green during the second round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club in Detroit on Friday, July 2, 2021.

After months of absence in the wake of his incendiary comments revealing the depth of his involvement in the Saudi-backed LIV Golf venture, Phil Mickelson had been on the entry list for next week’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills.

This evening, though, Mickelson withdrew, staging his own Friday news dump.

Mickelson’s absence in Tulsa will be felt much more acutely than at any of the prior events he’s skipped. As the defending champion, Phil would have commanded sizable attention in the buildup to the event and probably throughout coverage, as well. The question now, then: how will networks handle this storyline?

Because it’s a big, big story! Mickelson is physically healthy and not playing golf because of backlash to his Saudi comments, and that league starts play in early June.

(Side note: whether Phil plays in that event will go a long way towards how much sympathy he deserves here. If he’s truly taking time away to repair relationships with his family and those close to him, as his leave-of-absence statement declared, that’s one thing. If he’s simply going full-bore into the arms of Saudi money to cash in and doesn’t want to face questions until then, that’s something else entirely.)

ESPN and CBS have the coverage this week, and both networks also have rights deals with the PGA Tour. We got a bit of a glimpse of how they might handle things this week from ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt on a media conference call:

But Phil’s situation is a story line if he plays, and he will have provided us with the context with a press conference at some point prior to. If he doesn’t play, then I don’t know how much conversation there will be other than he’s not playing. He continues to be away from the game, and certainly that’s something that would — I’m sure would be mentioned over the course of time.

But I think the golf would be the central story line of our coverage because that’s what we’re there to cover is the 2022 PGA Championship. So it’s a fascinating, gigantic question mark, as we speak right now on Thursday, A, does he play? And, B, what does he have to say about whatever questions folks would have for him?

It sounds like until Phil goes on the record again here, networks aren’t going to do much speculating or even addressing his absence. Which is pretty wild! This is a huge story, and yet most everyone seems very unsure how they should be talking about it. Is that partly because the PGA Tour (a wholly separate organization from the PGA, which puts on the PGA Championship) is leaning on rights partners to not legitimize things?

If Phil’s absence goes fairly unexplained (as it did at Augusta), it’d be hard to blame conspiracy theorists putting that out there. If Phil is going through tougher times behind-the-scenes, that’s another possible explanation; no one currently working on a network broadcast really has any interest in kicking Phil while he’s down. (Now that Johnny Miller is retired, anyway.)

But it’s been really, really fascinating watching how mainstream golf coverage has largely ignored the impending Saudi Arabian startup. Because that’s been a big talking point for a lot of off-screen golf media for a while now, and it’s clearly been bleeding over, with plenty of very recognizable names not hiding their involvement.

Greg Norman is routinely making the media rounds looking like an idiot. Sergio Garcia berated a PGA Tour rules official last week by saying he’s glad he won’t have to deal with them anymore, signaling he’s planning on jumping ship in defiance of the Tour’s threats to ban players who participate.

Obviously no one on a PGA Tour telecast is going to spend time talking about a league the Tour considers a major threat. But events like the Masters and the PGA Championship aren’t beholden to the PGA Tour, and absences as big as Phil’s should certainly be explored. If an NBA star had to miss games in the playoffs for a self-inflicted reason, it would absolutely be a talking point. Dancing around it would be a disservice to viewers, many of whom might still have no idea why Phil isn’t playing golf at all, much less at Southern Hills.

Let’s hope coverage doesn’t hide this particular narrative. It’s one of the biggest stories in golf right now.

Maybe Joe Buck will talk about it.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a columnist at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer. He is probably talking to a dog in a silly voice at this very moment.