Phil Mickelson was right…sort of | Golf News and Tour Information

ATLANTA — Phil was right.

Of course, Mr. Mickelson did things the wrong way, which is typical of a complex and contradictory character who has so often been his worst enemy. Now that his former place of business, the PGA Tour, has undergone a radical transformation in an effort to thwart the upstart competitor he championed, it’s time to reassess Mickelson’s legacy as an agent of change.

The tumultuous events of the past two weeks have provided Phil with sweet vindication. As he explained to me in a busy phone call in November 2021, Mickelson has long believed that PGA Tour players need to have more say in how they are governed. That’s exactly what happened, as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy became de facto co-commissioners. Cementing new player muscle is the revamp of the Tour’s all-powerful board, as it has been reduced from nine seats to 10, with players receiving a fifth representative; they are no longer outnumbered by bureaucrats and businessmen.

As Jon Rahm told me this week at the Tour Championship, “As players, we’ve been told [by tour leadership] a million and a half times, you’re the PGA Tour. And I think recently is maybe the first time that I feel like they really care what the players think.

The mini-uprising led by Woods and McIlroy forced changes to the schedule in an effort to get top players to face off more often. It’s also been a longtime talking point for Mickelson: he’s an outspoken critic of cross-field events, believing they weaken the product of the tour, and as Brandel Chamblee told me he’s been paired with Phil at the BC Open in the 1990s, “knowing that I was on the Players Advisory Council, he spent all the time in my ear saying that the PGA Tour should be reduced to just the top 30 players, just the stars He was totally oblivious to the fact that it would eliminate my job.

Mickelson was seduced by LIV Golf’s fantastic money because he has long harbored the grievance that, as the second biggest star of the last quarter century, he was grossly underpaid. (Whether he was forced to take the Saudis’ money because of what he has since called a gambling addiction is a question that is explored in detail in my recently published biography.) During our phone conversation, Mickelson noted that his on-course earnings peaked in 2009 at $8.3 million, including the FedEx Cup bonus, a fraction of what top players in team sports earn. What particularly bothered Mickelson was his suspicion that the PGA Tour was not giving players a fair share of revenue. He cited that the tour had cash reserves of $800 million, an inflated number that hinted at the truth. Faced with the threat of LIV, the tour suddenly turned on the spigot of fresh television money. The nebulous player impact program was created from scratch to funnel money to the best players, and in less than a year the pot exploded from $40 million to 10 players to the distribution of 100 million dollars between 20 players. (One of the tour’s strongest differentiators was pure meritocracy versus LIV’s potentially corrupt guaranteed money, but the PIP now offers lavish pay that’s not tied to on-course performance.) Early scholarship increases and additional bonus programs added another $95 million. in the pockets of PGA Tour players in 2022, and now the Tour has committed to a slate of a dozen mega-tournaments with $20 million in prize money, more than double what many of those events have paid out This year. Asked Wednesday where all the new money is coming from, commissioner Jay Monahan said existing tournament sponsors would help defray the costs, but he also cited the main source of the new largesse: “reserves”. Phil was right.

He was also obsessed with how players could better monetize their name image, especially through NFTs. There you go, the PGA Tour announced an NFT peddling program for its players this spring, though details remain unclear. (LIV’s Golfer NFTs are already on sale.) Mickelson has railed against the tour for charging him a $1 million licensing fee to participate in made-for-TV exhibits, part of what he called a tendency to stifle players’ ability to market themselves. outside of traditional frameworks. Now, in the new world order, the tour happily supplies its stars for a series of indoor team shows on Monday nights, at a fledgling business called TGL, which is owned by Woods and McIlroy.

It’s impossible to say how many of these changes would have happened without Mickelson’s strategy, but he undoubtedly played a crucial role. Millions of new dollars will go to the game’s best players over the next few years, but Mickelson is getting, at best, grudging recognition. As McIlroy said this week, “While I probably don’t want to give Phil credit at all, yeah, there were certain points he was trying to make. Did any of those ideas have merit? Of course they did.

The lingering bitterness towards Mickelson – not only from the players but also from fans and other game stakeholders – is less about what he did than about how he did it, especially the sneakiness. He was conducting stealth negotiations with Monahan while secretly helping the Saudis organize LIV. Acting as a double agent inevitably leaves both parties with the nagging suspicion that the double timer is only for himself; in McIlroy’s formulation, it was “a group of renegades trying to take some kind of power grab on the PGA Tour”. Rory and Tiger took the exact opposite tact from Mickelson’s selfish approach. These new Tour guardians sought consensus and fostered solidarity, galvanizing others to work together for the greater good. (This approach inevitably benefits individuals as well.) McIlroy and Woods were hailed for their leadership, and their position in the game was only strengthened.

Just 15 months ago, Mickelson, at the age of 51, won the PGA Championship in the crowning glory of a storied career. While wrapped in a raving fan crush on the final fairway of the Ocean Course, one of golf’s most popular players had never been so beloved. But behind the scenes, forces were already at work that would forever obscure his legacy and turn him into an outcast on the tour that made him a star. Mickelson earned a nine-figure windfall from LIV and helped reshape the landscape of professional golf. But it’s impossible not to wonder if, in his quiet moments, he still believes this fight was worth it.

Michael C. Ford