Tag: Super Golf League

A Masters without Phil

Augusta National
PGA Tour (https://www.pgatour.com/)

After missing all of February and March over his statements in support of the Saudi-backed Super Golf League, we now learn that Phil will not be at the Masters this year. The big question is why? Has he been officially suspended? The PGA Tour has been cryptically mum on that. Do the powers that be at Augusta National really not want him there? A three-time Champion? The reigning PGA Champ? Or did they bend to the wishes of Tour Commissioner, Jay Monahan. Again, a wall of silence. One thing is for sure, the television ratings for The Masters will take a hit without Phil. Granted the Saudi government, and specifically Prince Mohammed bin Salmon, is the very definition of “undesirable.” But the U.S. government hasn’t had a problem doing business with Saudi Arabia, having sold over $60 billion in military hardware to the Kingdom between 2015 and 2020. Yet Phil is being crucified because he made a few off-color remarks, for which he has since apologized. Phil is a professional golfer, not a politician. He was trying to apply additional pressure on the Tour to increase revenue sharing with regard to digital media rights. And yes, Phil would reap a substantial reward if successful, but all of the other tour players would benefit greatly as well.

Greg Norman

Super Golf League

The looming threat of the Super Golf League, offering guaranteed money, no cut, and large bonuses for big name talent had already begun to draw a reaction from the PGA Tour well before Phil entered the picture—he just gave it a nudge. A lucrative player incentive program (PIP) was announced back in April 2021, whereby players would receive bonus money based strictly on media appeal. The criteria being a complex algorithm that includes the frequency with which a player’s name comes up in Google searches, social media presence, and network broadcast appearances. For 2021, the PIP was $40 million, and jumps up to $50 million in 2022. Tiger, not Phil, was the primary beneficiary of the PIP, taking home the $8 million first place prize. And then the Tour bumped the purse at the 2022 Players Championship to $20 million, a $5 million increase over 2021. Phil was in exile for the Players, so he didn’t benefit from that either (Cameron Smith walked away with the $3.6 million first place check). In addition, the Tour has increased the FedEx prize money to $75 million for 2022, a $15 million increase over 2021. And since Phil has been banished, with no return date in sight, his chances to share in that pot of gold would appear pretty slim as well.

Getting a Pass

Taking the Heat

And what about all the other players who played footsy with the Super Golf League? Are they paying a price? Apparently not. Even players who have admitted to signing NDAs with the Super Golf League, including Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, and Adam Scott, have been given a pass by the Tour and continue to play. Phil alone is taking the heat, and with a thirty-year legacy as a stand-up guy, I suppose that is what we should expect. Still, it would be nice if a few other players (other than Rory of course), would get behind him and state the obvious—Phil belongs at the Masters.

Legacy at Augusta

But since we won’t have the opportunity to see Phil try to add a fourth green jacket to his closet this year, let’s take a minute to review what we will be missing. Mickelson has been in the field at Augusta National for 30 Masters Championships, making the cut 26 times. His record includes three wins, eight Top-5’s, and he finished among the Top-10 fifteen times. And who will ever forget Phil the Thrill dropping it inside ten feet from the pine straw on thirteen when he took home his third title in 2010. With his amazing PGA Championship victory last year at age fifty, we know Phil still has fuel in the tank. Let’s just hope he is there this year to defend it.

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Phil Deserves a Pass

Phil being Phil

Over the past few months, Phil Mickelson has faced an unprecedented level of criticism from the press, golf fans, and many of his peers on Tour for his comments supporting the “Super Golf League.” As most everyone is now aware, the Super Golf League is backed by Saudi money, specifically “PIF” (the Saudi Public Investment Fund), and the unsavory specter of Prince Salmon bin Abdulaziz, who is Chairman of PIF. When asked how he could support an endeavor connected to such people, Phil stated “while he was aware of the Kingdom’s horrible record on human rights and other crimes attributed to the prince,” he was supporting the new league for the “leverage’ it could provide for players when negotiating with the PGA Tour—specifically as applied to “Media Rights” (referring to the PGA Tour’s “obnoxious greed” in that regard). There is no question that Phil likes to speak his mind, and he will sometimes rub people the wrong way. We may also be unhappy with the choices he makes regarding his golf career. But before we pass judgement, let’s remember that actions are far more indicative of an individual’s character than words. Over the past thirty-odd years, Phil Mickelson has built a legacy of warmth, generosity, and professionalism, both on and off the golf course.

Phil the Thrill

And yes, Phil is not perfect. He is a flawed human being, just like the rest of us. Everyone has heard about his affinity for games of chance, but that aspect of Phil’s personality is precisely what makes him so much fun to watch on the golf course. His critics question his sincerity, because he takes so much time signing autographs, chatting up the fans, and being such a nice guy in public, while behind the scenes he likes to break a few chops. With six major championships and fifty-seven professional wins, Phil is among the greatest players in the history of golf —he doesn’t need to curry favor with anybody. He makes the effort to connect with fans because he has genuine empathy for people, and appreciates that a few minutes of his time can mean so much to every-day folks, including the wide-eyed twelve-year-old who just watched him create a bit of magic. And make no mistake, it takes a lot of effort. The demands placed on star athletes is staggering, and there are few who make so much time for the public, or embrace it with the warmth of Phil Mickelson.

Conrad Doblar

There are many stories of Phil’s financial generosity, but let’s remember just a few. After losing the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, Phil took the time to personally thank each volunteer and member of the club staff, distributing gratuities that totaled many thousands of dollars. It’s not so much the money, but the fact that he made such a heartfelt effort to show his appreciation, even while absorbing yet another crushing loss at the one championship that had eluded him. The previous year Phil won the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, and was described by Doug Steffen, the former Director of Golf at Baltusrol, as “one of the most generous men I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.” Win or lose, Phil is always Phil—and you really have to love him. In 2004 Phil and his wife, Amy, created “Birdies for the Brave,” a charitable initiative that has raised millions for wounded veterans. In 2001 tragedy struck the family of retired NFL player Conrad Dobler when his wife, Joy, suffered trauma that left her a quadriplegic, straining the family’s finances to the breaking point. Phil heard about it, and although he never met the Doblers personally, offered to help by paying the entirety of their daughter Holli’s college education. As Joy Dobler sees it, “If there’s anything missing in his life, it’s a set of wings. He’s an angel.”     

We should also keep in mind that while Tiger has enjoyed the bulk of the credit for increasing golf’s popularity in recent years, Phil has done more than his share. When he won the PGA Championship in 2021, Sunday viewership was 6.5 million, a 27% increase from the prior year. And before Phil made his entrance on Tour, total purses were in the neighborhood of a million dollars, while today they exceed seven million. Perhaps the players who are so quick to jump all over Phil right now should reflect on that.     

So yes, Phil made may have spoken out of turn. And he is not perfect. But I, for one, intend to give him some slack—he deserves it.

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DeChambeau and Mickelson Leaving the PGA Tour?

Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson

The rumor mill has been in high gear recently, with speculation that Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson may bolt from the PGA Tour to grab the huge money being thrown around by the Saudi-backed “Super Golf League.” The latest rumor spike has been fueled by the “PIF Saudi International,” held at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which was sanctioned by the Asian Golf Tour and attracted a number of the biggest names in golf, including Phil, DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Cameron Smith and Bubba Watson.

Greg Norman

Greg Norman (with LIV Golf Investments), is the prime mover behind the Super Golf League, and also the mastermind behind the “International Series,” a group of ten new events added to the Asian Golf Tour with a massive funding infusion from LIV (and the PIF Saudi International as the first in the series). Because the Saudi International was added as a regular event on the Asian Tour, the PGA Tour did not raise an objection to players who wanted to enter–but did include a stipulation that any player entering the Saudi event would have to play in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (held at the same time), in each of the next two years in order to retain their tour card. It is clear that Norman is using the International Series, and the Saudi International specifically, as a means to showcase the Super Golf league, and entice as many PGA Tour players as he can. On the other side, the PGA Tour has stated plainly that anyone who enters a Super Golf League tournament will immediately lose their privileges to play PGA Tour events. So where do things stand right now?

Big Money

Rumors are flying where offers in the neighborhood of $100 Million or more have been dangled in front of the biggest stars in golf, with a number of players categorically stating that they are not interested, some remaining cryptically mum, and quite a few dancing around on the fence. Players that have gone on record as saying absolutely not include Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and the biggest name of all–Tiger. The mum group is headed by Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood (each of whom stating that they signed a Non-Disclosure-Agreement with LIV Golf Investments, thus having perfect cover to dodge uncomfortable questions). The bulk of the speculation surrounds players who are on the fence, including Phil, Bryson DeChambeau, and those who competed at the Saudi International (Xander Schauffele, Cam Smith, Pat Reed, Bubba Watson and Tony Finau). Phil has been crafting his public statements to indicate that the Super Golf League can provide “leverage” for players to get a bigger piece of the PGA Tour money pie–which ironically may itself tend to negate quite a bit of the leverage he purports to seek. On the other hand, the PGA Tour appears to have already reacted to the looming threat posed by the Super Golf League, with increased purses, higher FedEx Cup prize money, and a $50 million bonus fund that is disbursed on the basis of “PIP Standings” (Player Impact Standings—basically popularity, not directly associated with performance).

Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz

The Saudi’s

The biggest hurdle that Greg Norman and the Super Golf League will face, however, is the source of the big money that’s being waved in front of the players. “LIV Golf Investments” is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as Chairman–the same man who, according to the CIA, ordered the assassination and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul back in 2018. One would think this is an association that few players would find appealing—but then again, it’s a lot of money…       

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