Column: Golf’s $800 million man says PGA Tour is greedy

February 4, 2022 GMT
Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the fifth hole of the South Course at Torrey Pines during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament, Wednesday Jan. 26, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the fifth hole of the South Course at Torrey Pines during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament, Wednesday Jan. 26, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the fifth hole of the South Course at Torrey Pines during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament, Wednesday Jan. 26, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the fifth hole of the South Course at Torrey Pines during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament, Wednesday Jan. 26, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the fifth hole of the South Course at Torrey Pines during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament, Wednesday Jan. 26, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Phil Mickelson just ripped the PGA Tour for what he called “obnoxious greed.”

Now that — pardon the expression — is rich.

“I know I will be criticized,” Mickelson said earlier this week, soon after arriving in the golf-forsaken Saudi Arabian metropolis of King Abdullah Economic City — you cannot make this stuff up — to play in the Saudi International.

“That’s not my concern,” Mickelson added in an interview with Golf Digest. “All that would do is dumb down one of the most intricate issues in sport.”

Actually, it’s not that intricate. It’s just another attempt at a cash grab. If you remember the mercifully brief crash-and-burn experiment run by a handful of top European soccer teams to create a breakaway league and keep the lion’s share of the receipts last spring, you’re pretty much up to speed.

In this instance, though, it’s former golfer Greg Norman trying to establish an Asian Tour to rival the PGA Tour after bombing with the same concept nearly 20 years ago. This time, though, Norman has pumped $300 million into the venture through his LIV Golf Investments, which in turn is funded primarily by the Saudis’ sovereign wealth fund. And the sheiks willing to dole out the money are a lot less interested in golf than they are in cleaning up their image as routinely ruthless violators of human rights.

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We’ll get to exactly what got Phil’s dander up 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 climbing.

He pilots his own jet, owns a Bentley, an Aston Martin, a mansion in California with a three-hole putting course and is building an even bigger mansion in Florida, apparently to avoid paying state income tax. The only guys splattered with more logos when they get dressed are either walking a runway during Fashion Week in Milan or sitting behind the wheel at a NASCAR race.

But what if the PGA Tour didn’t exist when Mickelson joined in 1992, and just as important, Tiger Woods didn’t show up four years after that? Well, it might be a very different story.

Mickelson might still be playing in front of relatives and not many more souls than wandered the fairways during his college days at Arizona State. He’d be thrilled just to nab the exit-row seat on a long commercial flight and own even one Rolex, let alone the drawerful he has stashed at home (next to a bag of cash) for endorsing the brand.

Instead, it was the flush Phil who soon after his arrival in Saudi Arabia pocketed an appearance fee that once would have qualified as a “king’s ransom” but could be more accurately described these days as a “sultan’s bribe.” And almost everything you really need to know about the Saudi International tournament can be explained in two sentences:

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No. 1, it’s being played on a course that looks like it was plopped down next to a shopping mall parking lot in Phoenix; and No. 2, Mickelson wasn’t the only PGA Tour pro who skipped the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and flew halfway around the world with a guarantee — no matter what they shot — to fly back home a lot richer.

Lefty opened with a 67 in Saudi, added a 69 and through two rounds was tied for 14th. Considering he beat only five players at Kapalua, didn’t break par on easy courses in the California desert and missed another cut at Torrey Pines, this would be progress.

Of course, Mickelson might have been distracted in those three events to start the year, steamed about the PGA Tour controlling the players’ media rights, an asset he valued at $20 billion without providing how he came up with that number.

If nothing else, he contended just the threat of top players defecting to a rival league would give them more leverage to bargain.

But what about those sublime golf skills Mickelson spent a lifetime honing? Shouldn’t that be leverage enough?

Without the PGA Tour, sure, those would be great for taking $100 bills off his pals every weekend down at the local country club. And good as Mickelson is, he probably could have taken his hustle on the road like old-timers Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd. Both pocketed plenty of money playing in winner-take-all matches at private clubs, but neither saw a paycheck with six figures on it until they took their talents out on the PGA Tour.

Now, it takes almost that much just to fuel up the jet. Mickelson got that much, and much 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 above all, Woods, built a PGA Tour that made it possible.

So who’s being greedy now?

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