For me, a Tiger Woods fan from the “hello-world” moment, Phil Mickelson has been an acquired taste. But Phil, with his willingness to gamble on and off the course, his penchant for staying longer to make sure every autograph was penned, and his delight at dropping hundred-dollar bills here and there, won me over.
I cheered when Phil got over his major hump, winning The Masters in 2004, and each time he added one of the five more, including the unlikeliest, the 2021 PGA Championship at the age of 50.
But Phil has lost me and faces a lot of rehab work not only to mend our relationship but also that with legions of Phil fans who are wondering what he was thinking. Not since the 18th tee box in the final round of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot has Mickelson been in more need of a mulligan.
You do not have to be a golf fan to know that Mickelson, one of the game’s richest and most popular players, has gambled with at least one of those distinctions – perhaps both — by cozying up to the murderous Saudi Arabia regime to pressure the PGA Tour into making changes that seem intended to help the rich get richer.
It is quite all right to look the other way with the Saudis as this nation and the world has done if the goal is cheap gasoline, but if you are already worth $400 million and your aim is to fatten further that bank account, then do not expect fans to have your back.
But here is my real issue:
Mickelson was a key figure – some are suggesting co-chief architect along with Greg Norman, another former favorite of mine — in the Saudis’ attempts to establish a new professional golf tour whose success depended on their ability to dangle hundreds of millions of dollars – guaranteed money regardless of the scorecard — to enlist golf’s superstars. To their credit, the world’s top players such as Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas took the lead in opposition, proclaiming that riches were secondary and their focus was to add to their legacy, which demands that they tee it up against the game’s best.
I am not sure a collection of athletes from any other sport would not have taken a bite out of that apple, which is more impressive when you consider golfers are paid not for showing up, but by how they perform. Just another reason golf is the greatest game.
Phil has now gambled with something dear to me, the PGA Tour and its future. I rarely miss watching an event, knowing that is where I will find the game’s greats, and if they are somewhere else playing in a sandbox, then too much shine comes off.
I also do not understand Phil’s beef beyond his apparent dislike for the PGA Tour profiting off his play, which has a mutual benefit. Bottom line is the bottom line, and Phil and other PGA professionals, including Fairmont’s own William McGirt, have cashed in big time because of rising purses whose growth paralleled Woods’ ascension to the top of the sport. So has charity, which the PGA contributes to more than any other sport, north now of $2 billion.
Which brings up to another Mickelson miscalculation. Phil in December thanked his supporters for helping him win the Player Impact Program award, which is the PGA Tour’s reward to players for promoting the game through social engagement with fans.
The problem being that Woods won the PIP and its $8 million prize, while Phil once again played second fiddle and cashed only a $6 million check. I do not think Phil can count on cashing another PIP check.
The PGA Tour is widely regarded as having the best pension plan for its players of all sports, and it has been floated that Phil’s is worth $250 million. It would seem a wayward approach to take a match to any entity that owes you $250 million, but that is what Phil tried to do.
Thankfully, that match was downwind for the game’s greats.
Donnie Douglas is a former executive editor of The Robesonian. Contact him at [email protected]