On Friday, PGA officials for the upcoming PGA Championship released a statement saying that golf star Phil Michelson has withdrawn from the PGA​ Championship tournament coming up next week at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In a tweet, PGA of America said, “Phil is the defending champion and currently eligible to be a PGA Life Member and we would have welcomed him to participate. We wish Phil and Amy (his wife) the very best and look forward to his return to golf.

Mickelson’s absence from the championship will mark the first time a reigning champion did not return the following year to defend his title since 2008. That was the year Woods couldn’t defend his title due to an injury. Woods, who is playing this year, held the title for two consecutive years in 2006 and 2007, before his 2008 injury.

The timing of this announcement is notable. In addition to being less than a week away from the start of the PGA Championship, it’s only days after the PGA Tour announced that it would not allow its members to play in the Saudi-backed LIV League’s first event. Mickelson has been a vocal critic of the PGA Tour and had applied to play in that LIV event as well as the PGA Championship.

Mickelson, now 51, missed the Masters Tournament in April for the first time in nearly 30 years and will also miss the LIV Golf series in London and the U.S. Open in Massachusetts next month his agent told Golf Digest. Golf fans and Michelson fans have had a range of emotions on this news.

The now reigning title holder of the PGA Championship, Mickelson is ranked number 58 in the world, stirred controversy with comments he made in January when he acknowledged that Saudi Arabia had a history of violating human rights. However, he refused to withdraw from a Saudi-backed tour because he said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” according to the New York Times.

Mickelson apologized in February and announced he was taking a sabbatical to focus on and prioritize his family. He tweeted, “The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowing affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

The Mickelson withdrawal does bring the question, “What’s next for Lefty?” It’s hard to say. The U.S. Open would have been the obvious answer, except his agent has said he won’t play, even though he’s qualified to play in the U.S. Open until 2025. The same goes for the LIV league or tour, commonly referred as the Saudi Golf League as his agent said he would not be playing. 

Mickelson has not played since January when he played in the Farmers Insurance Open. With the most recent news of withdrawing from the PGA Championship and not defending his title, it is fair to wonder when, or even if, we’ll see Michelson on the PGA Tour again.

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