We should have planned on watching Ben Hogan play Hogan’s Alley again before Phil Mickelson ever returned. Second only to Tiger Woods, and possibly Tim Love, Phil is the last person we thought would come back to Fort Worth for its annual PGA party.
Despite winning the tournament twice, Phil was done with Colonial. Colonial wanted to be done with Phil.
The last time Phil was here was 2010. He left with his feelings clearly hurt. He missed the cut. Phil doesn’t miss cuts. Or he didn’t back then.
He didn’t care about the lengths to which the club had gone to make him feel special, most likely because most courses did the same thing. At that point he was used to red carpets in the showers and toilets at all of the clubs where he played, other than the ones at the British Open, the PGA and Augusta National.
“With the [course] redesign, I’m afraid I won’t be playing it [Colonial] anymore,” Phil said in 2011. “It doesn’t give me a power advantage. I know all the shotmakers will be there every year. But I don’t see any of the long hitters playing there anymore. There’s no decision-making now. It’s all irons, irons, irons.”
It was a tee-shot blast at course designer Keith Foster, and a tone-deaf comment about his own game. Phil sounded like a coward.
Most (all?) of the tournament directors and club members were furious and insulted. Phil wanted to play tournaments where he could birdie a Par 5. Colonial wanted PGAers who at least expressed some degree of gratitude for their hospitality, which in Phil’s case was generously extensive.
Tourney executives had no idea this was coming, and are not searching for any explanation. Maybe this is just about preparing for the 2017 U.S. Open, scheduled for June 11 in Erin Hills near Milwaukee.
Whatever the reason, Phil’s return will be a burying of the hatchet between the two. He should be a regular again.
The Phil who will return next week is not, however, the Phil who left in 2010. He’s no longer one of the most dominant players in the world.
His arrival is a major win for the tournament. With the scheduled appearances of Jordan Spieth and Master’s champ Sergio Garcia, the tournament will have the names that events of this stature covet.
Nonetheless, Lefty should never have left.
In 2008, he won his second Colonial with one of the most memorable shots in the history of the event. The famous “Phil Flop” — an approach behind a wall of trees that hit the green and led to a tourney-winning birdie on 18 that should be commemorated on the course with a plaque.
In 2009, he was scheduled to return to Colonial to defend his title. His wife, Amy, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and he elected to remain with his spouse. The tournament then organized a “Pink Out” for Phil’s wife where everyone was encouraged to wear pink.
At the time, he was also the spokesman for the tournament’s then title sponsor, Crowne Plaza Hotels.
In 2010, Phil returned and played like garbage. He shot a 71-73 and went home to San Diego, one day before the Colonial’s scheduled Pink Out III. With that missed cut, Phil missed a chance to be the top-ranked player in the world. Tiger Woods had been on top for the previous 259 weeks.
Immediately after the tournament, Phil was polite about his experience at Colonial.
“I played terrible,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. I hadn’t played the course since the changes and the changes were fabulous. The course was in great shape, there was no wind and there were a lot of birdies out there. I just played terrible.”
About one year later, after his contract with Crowne Plaza Hotels had expired, his rhetoric magically changed. Crowne Plaza officials were not completely happy with Phil’s commitment.
Those “fabulous” course changes were suddenly not so good, and Phil was done with Colonial.
Time passes, minds change and hearts soften. Phil is 46. He has 42 career PGA Tour victories but his last win came at the British Open in 2013.
Colonial has changed, survived and, in some ways, thrived without Phil.
Let’s forget the breakup and just remember the good times, and hope that he makes a few more in his latest run on Hogan’s Alley.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof