BROOKLINE, Mass. – Phil Mickelson has addressed the US media several times, sometimes after saying something controversial, but Monday was the first time he had done so as an employee of the ruthless Saudi government. It is what it is. He can dodge it, soften it, or change the subject, but that’s what he is.
He left for Saudi-funded LIV Golf for many reasons. Like money, to begin with. Also, the salary. And then there is cash. Mickelson has spent his entire career turning his Everyman image into wealth, and now he’s found something that pays off better than the image, so he took it.
Mickelson spent most of his 26-minute press conference at the US Open trying not to create another title. He says he no longer wants to fight publicly with the PGA Tour. He says he respects those with “differing opinions”. He wants to take LIV’s money and play in the majors and become a fan favorite again. He wants everything except your questions.
Mickelson has a beard these days, which means the only thing he shaves is the truth. He said the PGA Tour did “a lot of things I was okay with and a lot of things I disagreed with. I supported them anyway. That would be news for the PGA Tour stars who stayed.
When asked if putting a wedge in the world of golf was LIV’s goal, Mickelson said, “The starting point, I’m going to have to defer to the guys at LIV Golf. It was their idea. It’s a change of tone since he told author Alan Shipnuck that he helped pay lawyers to draft LIV’s operating agreement.
Mickelson has been looking for more than a year for a way to sell this decision, to the point that some explanations contradict each other. He ridiculed the “abhorrent greed” of the PGA Tour. In May 2021, as various iterations of a rival golf league were launched, Mickelson dishonestly framed the entire enterprise. It wasn’t about the oil money, you see. It was about improving the game for the fans.
“It’s a big deal to give up control of your schedule,” Mickelson said at the time. “I don’t know if the players would be selfless enough to do that.”
“I think the fans would love that because they would see the best players playing exponentially more often,” Mickelson said then. “Instead of four or five times, it would be 20 times.”
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It was just an outrageous distortion. The best players in the world were already competing four times a year in major tournaments; another time in the Players Championship; three times in the FedEx Cup playoffs; two to four times in World Golf Championship events; and in the Ryder and Presidents Cup alternately. That’s at least 11 times, not four or five…and we haven’t even been to all the PGA Tour events that include many top players…
… but whatever! Phil said on Monday that one of the reasons he joined LIV is that “with fewer tournaments it allows me to have more balance in my life. It allows me to do things off the golf course that I’ve always wanted to do.
So which one is it? Does he want the best players to compete more or less? Choose whichever suits you best, please – but first, pour a cup of Phil’s coffee.
Of course, we will see the best players in the world compete less now than any time in memory. That’s what LIV did. No reasonable person can say it’s better for golf.
Mickelson has always presented himself as golf’s man of the people. It was a marketing tool as much as anything; being popular is lucrative. But as long as Mickelson was charming fans — signing autographs, cracking jokes, giving thumbs up — who cared about his motivation? Fans paid for the tickets; Mickelson made them feel important; they bought his merchandise. Everyone won.
Over the past few years, however, Mickelson has swum so deeply into his own absurdities that he’s lost all sense of where he’s headed. He threw small tantrums that painted the picture of a man who believed he was never wrong. He landed a moving putt at the US Open and claimed it was a calculated strategy, a ridiculous defense which he later retracted. He pouted when the Detroit News ran an accurate story about his game, then said he would only return to Detroit’s PGA Tour shutdown if 50,000 fans signed a petition and each committed to a act of kindness. It was all silly, but it gave us a clue about his state of mind: after all these years, Phil thinks he can do anything.
Mickelson won $95 million in PGA Tour prize money. He earned hundreds of millions in endorsements. He said last week he risked his gambling fortunes exploding before he fixed his problem. Now he is apparently trying to regain his financial footing with blood money.
Gambling addiction is serious and miserable for everyone, no matter how much money they have. For that, Mickelson deserves empathy. But we can probably drop the Man of the People track.
The Saudi tour is not designed to be profitable. It’s an expensive public relations ploy that depends on the presence of big names. Mickelson is the biggest name to join, and he’s giving the Saudis the legitimacy they crave. They don’t pay him for his current skills; he will turn 52 this week and will probably never be one of the top 50 players in the world again.
So here’s Phil Mickelson in 2022 having to explain that yes, he actually sympathizes with the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, and no, he doesn’t condone human rights abuses. A professional life chasing paychecks has led to the biggest and most offensive imaginable.