Phil Mickelson obviously won’t be playing in this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields but – just as was the case at last week’s U.S. Open – he was still part of the show.
Mickelson’s participation in the Open at Erin Hills was in limbo until he formally withdrew to attend his daughter’s high school graduation in California just before the first round started at Erin Hills in Wisconsin. After the Open he was the talk of the golf world again when he announced a breakup with Jim Mackay, his caddie of 25 years.
Monday was a day for Mickelson to do some promotional work for KPMG, sponsor of the second of five major championships on the Ladies PGA Tour. The $3.5 million 72-hole championship tees off on Thursday but Mickelson gave tournament week a big sendoff when he competed with three of the top women players – defending champion Brooke Henderson, world No. 1 Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis – in a fun exhibition that was closed to the public.
Several youth groups and Olympia members filled the bleachers as Mickelson and Henderson wound up in a duel for the title, Mickelson winning.
“It was fun a showcase for the young kids – and hopefully it’ll inspire them,’’ said Henderson amidst a throng of autograph-seekers.
Mickelson claimed he was “nervous’’ beforehand, but insisted his support for women’s golf overrode the competitive aspect of the day. Through his foundation he is making a contribution to the KPMG Future Leaders Program for the creation of college scholarships and believes the tournament will have a positive impact on women both on and off the course.
He was particularly respectful of Henderson, Ko and Lewis – three of the greatest stars in women’s golf.
“I know how good they are,’’ said Mickelson, “and it was fun to be around some of the best athletes in the world. Last year, when Brooke shot her low rounds (in winning the tournament at Sahalee in Washington) that was one of the most exciting events of the year.’’
Mickelson arrived at Olympia Fields on a Metra train from downtown Chicago to underscore an easy mode of transportation for spectators to get to the tournament.
Henderson and her cohorts will carry that message further in a day-long pro-am today that also features former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan, comedian George Lopez, Chicago sports legends Brian Urlacher, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux and TV personality Drew Scott.
As for the much-publicized breakup with his caddie, Mickelson admitted it was emotional. Their last round together was in the St. Jude Classic in Memphis.
“We had hoped to end at the U.S. Open, because that’s where we started in 1992,’’ said Mickelson, “but we both knew it was time. He’ll have some incredible opportunities, and I’ve cherished the last 25 years. We’ve come through highs and lows on and off the course, but I’m also looking forward to spending time with my brother.’’
Tim Mickelson will be Phil’s caddie for the rest of the year and Mickelson added one bit of new information on the caddie switch. It came with the permission of young PGA phenom Jon Rahm. Tim was Rahm’s college coach at Arizona State. He quit the ASU job to become Rahm’s manager, a job he’ll now conduct along with his caddie duties.