BROOKLINE, MA – What is it Marc Antony said at Julius Caesar’s funeral? I’ll say it now as Phil Mickelson’s self immolation with Saudi oil burns like a proprietary torch over our beloved U.S. Open:
The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Mickelson.
The Saudi Arabian ruling class-funded LIV Golf League set the golf world ablaze with unending fountains of cash, but thus far their fairground sideshow is more a kaleidoscopic whirligig than a serious golf tournament. Penny tosses such as shotgun starts, “holes remaining” graphics, revolving player drafts, stupid team names like “the Hy Rollers vs. the Fireballs,” and “the Crushers vs. the Mashies,” and no cuts dumb down golf to its lowest common denominator. Money aside, LIV looks like a glorified version of any and every rubber chicken scramble you play at home with your loudmouth, lunkhead golf buddies, only with dumber team names. No word yet on whether ties will be settled by chip offs or longest drive competitions. An appropriate season-ending award would be a tin trophy, diamond encrusted…with blood diamonds.
That gibbering idiot, Greg Norman, (cue that song “Baby Shark” – Baaa beeee Shark! Doo doo doo doo doo doo. Baa bee Shark! Doo doo doo doo doo doo…) is primarily responsible for this menagerie. For those of you too young to remember, Greg got his nickname by – allegedly – wrestling a real shark when he was a machismo-fueled twenty-something beach buff.
Right about now, it appears we all should have been wishing the real shark had won. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: RELAX! I DON’T WISH THE SHARK ACTUALLY ATE HIM. METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING, I WISH IT BIT 12.5% OFF HIS ASS, HOWEVER.]
Norman – greedy, feckless, and disloyal to the hand that fed him for so long – tried for years after his playing days had faded to start a pro golf tour in opposition to the PGA Tour. He floated ideas for worldwide tour stops, team format, fewer events, smaller fields and, of course, guaranteed money: a sort of star system meets patronage kind of deal. In the early 1990s the idea gained some traction. Could Norman start pulling players away from the Tour in favor of a series of events he wanted to hold? It seemed possible.
But in a stellar coup, Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem outflanked Norman, pulling the rug out from Norman and sending him back to the curb again with a resounding thud. Finchem launched the World Golf Championships in 1994, exactly what Norman was trying to start and a far better product with all rights holding and broadcasting channels already secure. Norman was nothing left but an idea, an idea someone else brought to fruition before him.
Say what you want about Finchem being a socially awkward nimrod, (and he was), but the WGC has been a success and a staple of the Tour ever since. The nerve-rattling geek easily beat the glowering beach boy.
People in golf describe Norman as the kind of person who can’t let failures go, sees affronts whether real or imagined, and who will brood in secret, gnawing at the strands of his failed schemes and festering over new vengeful plots. For years Norman stewed and steamed and plotted. Finally, he found a weak spot and a willing partner with no scruples about the holy ethos of a noble sport.
Did the worst person in golf get in bed with the shadiest regime on the planet? Some pundits and analysts think so. The Saudis record on human rights is abominable. 15 of the 20 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals. And what the hell do the Saudis know about golf anyway? Who is their greatest player? Their greatest golf architect? Is there a Jeddah golf academy? Are girls allowed to attend? The Saudis score a big zero when it comes to ever having given a crap about golf before. The only thing the Saudis have is money, never ending gobs and gobs and gobs of liquid cash.
We entertainment lawyers have a saying: Oh, you’re the money? Then you remain so long as you remain silent. Pay attention. You will see how genius creates a legend.
Unfortunately Greg Norman is not a genius. Mentally, he’s somewhere between a duck-billed platypus and a Nepalese water yak. You don’t pay Greg Norman to think. That’s never been his job; it’s not his forte.
So we have the worst of all possibilities: a vengeful blunt instrument in the form of Norman, and enough money to buy a small country being offered by a Saudi prince, and the hell with 160 years of the sport, its history and traditions. Money will by new traditions, modern traditions, Saudi traditions.
And that finally brings us to sellout Phil Mickelson.
Phil Mickelson is forever lost to us. A ludicrous gambling addition – SI columnist Alan Shipnuck, author of a new unauthorized Phil biography, places his losses at about $40,000.000.00 between 2010 and 2014 alone – addiction may explain Phil’s defection to the Dark Side, but it doesn’t excuse it. Tens of millions owed to the heaviest collection syndicate on the planet? That’s too much scratch even for a sports mega-star like Mickelson.
It’s a celebrity problem to be sure. So it called for a celebrity solution.
But what kind of example does that set for kids? For golfers?
Phiil betrayed us. We gave Phil the world, and he gave us Mohammed bin Salman, (who is centralizing his power even as we speak), and Carmine the Collector, (who’ll breaka you face if you don’ pay! Capish?!).
Did Phil have us all fooled? Are we seeing the depths that addition can plumb? I’m afraid it’s both.
Squirming like never before at a press conference, Phil fidgeted, he looked helpless and befuddled, he didn’t look us in the eye, and he tried to stick to answers scripted to him and pre-prepared by no less a mouthpiece than Ari Fleischer himself – King of all PR mavens and reputation crisis managers – and Phil still flopped, roasted to a turn by the assembled media like a Christmas goose.
“Is there a question in there?” he testily asked Christine Brennan as she led into her question by mentioning Phil (and other defecting American players) got stinging letters with stern reminders of the Saudis duplicitous nature from the families of 9/11 victims.
The best Phil could manage was that he had both sympathy and empathy for them. Thanks for that.
Other answers were just pure weapons-grade bolonium. Flaccid, grandiose, and wild, easily disprovable claims, here’s a few whoppers that had nobody fooled:
“My preference is to be able to choose which path I would like, one or the other or both. I feel that…I gave as much back to the PGA TOUR and the game of golf that I could throughout my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I’ve earned a lifetime membership. I intend to keep that and then choose going forward which events to play and not.”
What he really meant through his gritted teeth: I want to have my cake, eat it too, and keep a slice in the fridge. Now I have enough money to sue my way back on to the PGA Tour or at least embarrass them significantly and expensively.
Remember that: the Saudis like to use lawfare. They use their vast wealth and power to wield litigation like a sword and not care about public opinion of it. Meanwhile, here’s another Phil dodge:
“I think the important thing is that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I understand that it brings out a lot of strong emotions for a lot of people, and I respect the way they may or may not feel about it.”
What he really meant: I know everyone hates me for being a turncoat, but I really need the money to pay off a lot of people. And now I’m so rich, I don’t have to care what anyone thinks. Boo me all you want; it’s a fait accompli. It’s not enough for me to be rich; I have to be filthy stinking rich…two out of three doesn’t cut it.
And then there’s this howler:
Q. Phil, your relationship with Callaway was paused a few months ago. Have you been in contact or spoken recently with Chip Brewer, and has that relationship changed now that you’ve officially gone on with the LIV Series?
PHIL MICKELSON: My relationship with Callaway and specifically with Chip Brewer transcends just a sponsorship. He is also a very good friend and somebody I look up to and respect. My conversations with my partners that I have had longstanding relationships with as well as a number of potential new partners going forward that we’ve been in communication with will play out over time. It’s not high on my priority list right now, and that stuff will play out in time.
What he’s really thinking: Jerk! You got me. You got me good. Just you wait and see! I’ll have sponsors again! I don’t care who. I need the money. And the Saudis deliver money in palettes like Barack Obama, baby!
Finally, there was this wild flail at one of the obvious “right questions” about this whole thing:
Q. Phil, outside of the golf you played last week, could you be specific on what you did to grow the game last week in London?
PHIL MICKELSON: [Pissed! Looking and talking like a man discovered in trying to sell igloos to Eskimos…] Alex, every day is not about what did I do to grow the game. What it is is engaging people, bringing people out to be exposed to the game. I saw a lot of young kids out there under the age of 7 or 8 being exposed to professional golf. It was an important part of my life going forward to be driven to have golf in my life, play golf, and then ultimately play professionally. So I think the number of kids that were out there is just one area that could potentially grow the game by having those young ones involved, but there’s a lot more areas and ways that last week helped, and I think it should be obvious.
Reaction: Kids? You’re hiding behind kids? Are there no kids this week at the Open? At the PGA Championship? At regular Tour stops?
Ari Fleischer! Clean up on aisle 2!
Mickelson is in a disaster of his own making. Chasing action in casinos, betting over your head, squandering a fortune, threatening your very family’s financial future, embarrassing them, shooting your mouth off to a journo, turning traitor on your long-time business associates, and trying to pillage their employees: are there any greater crimes in the American sports business calendar?
But it gets worse. The golf ball knows exactly what you’re thinking; your emotions travel right down the club shaft. Mickelson’s golf is flailing. Mickelson missed the cut this week by eight shots and never contended at the inaugural LIV event last week outside London. And he’s wrong. He’s wrong, the Baby Shark Greg Norman is wrong, and the Saudis are wrong: free agency is not good for golf.
Say it out loud with me to reinforce it: FREE AGENCY IS BAD FOR GOLF.
With players making nine-figure salaries, forget about affordable tickets. They went through the roof. Two day packages to the London LIV event went for $8,900, three days for just under $13,000. The only “perks” you get are fancy port-a-potties, air conditioned drinks, and the chance to observe one Q&A with Norman (so he can tell you how great he is) and one Q&A with a random player – maybe Mickelson, maybe Talor Gooch. Surely that’s worth five figures?
Further, international travel is far more expensive. Have you tried to price a plane flight across the USA? Now try to London, Dubai, or Shanghai. Instead of being able to follow the Tour, or stay for the entire week at an event, now you can afford one day.
Still the worst aspect of the entire farce is how is diminishes America: American sports, American business, American cultural hegemony. A foreign government is plundering the assets of an American business model, purely for the amusement of the Prince and to reenergize his depleting political clout.
The Saudis are the reddest of golf’s red light districts. And Norman is a boor. They’re urinating in the Sistine Chapel. Luckily, many of the players see it for what it truly is.
Reigning PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas: “I tossed and turned and lost a lot of sleep last week thinking about what could potentially happen, and I grew up my entire life wanting to play the PGA TOUR, wanting to break records, make history, play Presidents Cups, play Ryder Cups. The fact that things like that could potentially get hurt because of some of the people that are leaving, and if more go, it’s just sad. It’s really no other way to say it. It just makes me sad, because like I said, I’ve grown up my entire life wanting to do that, and I don’t want to do anything else.”
Reigning U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm: “I consider the PGA TOUR has done an amazing job giving us the best platform for us to perform. I do see the appeal that other people see towards the LIV Golf. I do see some of the — I’ll put this delicately — points or arguments they can make towards why they prefer it. To be honest, part of the format is not really appealing to me. Shotgun three days to me is not a golf tournament, no cut. It’s that simple. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years. That’s what I want to see.’
And best of all, Rory McIlroy:
Q. You’ve really emerged as the leader of the pro-PGA TOUR faction. Why have you taken that mantle of leadership?
RORY McILROY: “Because in my opinion it’s the right thing to do. The PGA TOUR was created by people and tour players that came before us, the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer.
They created something and worked hard for something, and I hate to see all the players that came before us and all the hard work that they’ve put in just come out to be nothing.
I think one of the other things as well is the PGA TOUR has certainly given me a lot of opportunities, and I’ve benefited a lot from that, but I think what they’ve done for charity. They’ve raised — if you put all the other major sporting organizations in this country — so NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, if you put all their charitable dollars combined, the PGA TOUR has raised twice as much as that in their history.
That is a massive legacy and something that I don’t think people talk enough about, so when you are talking about the TOUR and everything that’s happening right now, you have to see the bigger picture than just the golf, and I think I’ve tried to take a wider view of everything, and I just think it’s the right thing to do….I’ve tried to see this thing with a wider lens for the start.”
So should you, Dear Reader. There are solutions out there. For example, as of right now, no one seems to know what steroid/PED testing is out there for LIV if any at all. One solution is that players from a tour without WADA level or Olympic level PED testing cannot compete in major championships. Or perhaps there are more stringent qualification requirements for roguish new tours. Or just beg the Masters not to recognize it.
No one in golf will tangle with Augusta National.
As for Mickelson, maybe that old saw from the Batman stories is true: you either die a hero or you see yourself become the villain. Phil, you sold out your country. You sold out the game. You sold out our hearts. Phil, you’re dead to us. [Metaphorically! Metaphorically!] But the worst thing about that is, you don’t even seem to care. Filthy, stinking rich: you got your wish Phil. Now you’re all three.