Phil Mickelson just tore up the PGA Tour for what he called “abhorrent greed”.
Now that – pardon the expression – is rich.
“I know I will be criticized,” Mickelson said earlier this week, shortly after arriving in the abandoned Saudi Arabian metropolis of King Abdullah Economic City golf course – you can’t make this stuff up – to play in the International. Saudi.
“It’s not my problem,” Mickelson added. “All of this would only silence one of the most complex issues in sport.”
Actually, it’s not that complex. It’s just another cash grab attempt. If you remember the happily brief crash-and-burn experiment carried out by a handful of top European football teams to create a breakaway league and retain the lion’s share of revenue last spring, you’re pretty much close to the current.
In this case, however, it’s former golfer Greg Norman trying to establish an Asian Tour to rival the PGA Tour after bombarding with the same concept nearly 20 years ago. This time, however, Norman has pumped $300 million into the business through his LIV Golf investments, which in turn is funded primarily by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. And the sheikhs willing to hand out the cash are far less interested in golf than they are in cleaning up their image as systematically ruthless human rights violators.
We’ll get to exactly what caused Phil’s dander in a moment (but here’s a hint: money, money, money and more money). Just know that Lefty’s net worth is at least $800 million as you read this and it’s climbing.
He flies his own jet, owns a Bentley, an Aston Martin, a mansion in California with a three-hole putting course, and builds an even bigger mansion in Florida, ostensibly to avoid paying state income tax. State. The only guys splashed with more logos when dressing up are walking the runway during Milan Fashion Week or sitting behind the wheel at a NASCAR race.
But what if the PGA Tour didn’t exist when Mickelson joined Mickelson in 1992, and just as importantly, Tiger Woods didn’t show up four years later? Well, that could be a very different story.
Mickelson could still play in front of parents and not many more souls than those who wandered the fairways during his college years at Arizona State. He would love to take the exit row seat on a long commercial flight and even own a Rolex, not to mention the drawer he stashed at home (next to a bag of cash) for approving the brand.
Instead, it was Phil who, shortly after arriving in Saudi Arabia, pocketed an appearance fee that would once have been labeled a “king’s ransom”, but could be more accurately described nowadays as a “bribe from the sultan”. And almost everything you really need to know about the Saudi international tournament can be explained in two sentences:
No. 1, it is played on a course that appears to have been left next to a mall parking lot in Phoenix; and No. 2 Mickelson wasn’t the only PGA Tour pro to skip the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and fly halfway around the world with the guarantee – no matter what he shot – of return home much richer.
It turned out that Lefty shot 2 times and was tied for 53rd after the first round. Small wonder. He was probably still steamrolling over the PGA Tour controlling player media rights, an asset he valued at $20 billion without explaining how he came up with that figure. At least he argued that the mere threat of top players defecting to a rival league would give them more bargaining leverage.
But what about those sublime golfing skills that Mickelson has spent his life honing? Shouldn’t that be enough leverage?
Without the PGA Tour, of course, it would be great to collect $100 tickets from friends every weekend at the local country club. And as good as Mickelson is, he probably could have done on the road like old Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd. Both pocketed big bucks playing in win-win matches at private clubs, but neither saw a six-figure paycheck until they put their talents on the PGA Tour.
Now it takes almost as much to refuel the jet. Mickelson had that much, and more, to spend a few days in the desert chasing a ball with a stick because guys like Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and most importantly, Woods, built a PGA Tour that made it possible.
So who’s greedy now?
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