I’m a big fan of unintended irony. So I was wildly amused when I saw that pro golfer Phil Mickelson called out the PGA Tour for how it distributes money to the players, citing what he described as “greed” that was “beyond obnoxious.” The irony, of course, is that the same PGA Tour has allowed Mickelson to use his skills to win almost $100 million while also earning more than $800 million in endorsements. But my irony-entertainment meter went off the scale when Mickelson then proceeded to forego the PGA Tour for the LIV Golf Tour, earning a reported $200 million just for signing on.
Granted, most of us would take $200 million to play a little golf against watered-down competition. But the LIV Tour is being funded by the government of Saudi Arabia. You know, the same authoritarian Saudi government that kills journalists who oppose it and performs mass executions of its citizens. Fortunately, Mickelson is aware that he’s essentially being paid in blood money.
“They’re scary [expletives] to get involved with,” he told author Alan Shipnuck. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay.”
That’s not new information to anyone. But Mickelson has always fancied himself to be the smartest guy in the room. But, of all the notable PGA Tour Players who have signed on to the LIV Tour, Mickelson has also been the most overt in his own avarice.
Making Cash Without Making The Cut
While playing the schlubby, second banana to Tiger Woods for most of his career, Mickelson has always been viewed as the all-too-human everyman on the golf course. Whether it was emotional, unexpected victories, epic collapses, his willingness to take risks that didn’t always pay off, or just his outward love of the game, Mickelson’s well-curated reputation was that of a regular guy with flaws like the rest of us.
But Mickelson’s greed has always been in plain sight. He once told a reporter that, on his list of priorities, “Money is number one, number two, number three, number four, and number five.” He had to write a check for almost $1 million to get himself out of insider trading charges while his co-defendants went to jail. His gambling losses may have exceeded $40 million over a four-year period. He’s even publicly whined about the income tax he’s had to pay. But with only $2.7 million in on-course earnings and $40 million in endorsement income from a variety of sponsors from 2021 (who all severed ties with him after his remarks about the PGA), it seems Mickelson still needs more money. And he’s more than willing to cozy up to the Saudi government’s “sport washing” effort to get it.
Stuck In An Unplayable Lie
Perhaps the $200 million in LIV Tour money will help Phil Mickelson become the better person he says he wants to become. While he’d always been chatty to the media, when he showed up at a press conference for the first LIV tournament (looking like the poster boy for cocaine addiction), he dodged questions about why he’d forgone the PGA Tour for the riches of the LIV circuit. He mumbled public relations staff-supplied clichés. He even threw out empty concern for the families of 9/11 terrorist attack victims (the majority of the terrorists were discovered to have been sponsored by the Saudi government). But what none of the LIV Tour players could say was especially obvious in Mickelson’s case. Golf and glory aren’t what’s driving them. Instead, it’s pure greed.
While Mickelson and the other LIV Tour players have been banned from PGA events, in 2022, at least, they were still allowed to play in major tournaments. After sitting out the Master’s and the PGA, Mickelson missed the cut in both the U.S. Open and the British Open. In his two LIV Tour appearances, he finished tied for 26th and tied for 33rd. By missing the cut in the majors, Mickelson earned zero dollars. But in the LIV events, Mickelson made $146,000 and $133,000 just for showing up and playing three rounds of non-competitive golf at each event. Hence, Mickelson has apparently found exactly what he wants; a way to make a filthy amount of money from golf without actually having to actually earn it.
So I wouldn’t worry about Phil Mickelson. Having only made about $900 million in his career, he still needs $200 million in LIV Tour money and golf, in some form, to serve his greed. He may be dogged by uncomfortable questions wherever he goes from now on, and he may have to lie about his true motivation. But hey, a guy’s gotta eat, right? And, though he condemned the PGA Tour for its greed, it’s clear that Phil Mickelson doesn’t care where his money comes from so long as he gets his slice of the pie too.