Fellow players have questioned or criticized the move. The media and social media reacted as if Mickelson’s LIV jump were a personal affront or as if loyalty to the PGA Tour was akin to patriotism. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspended the LIV players and said it was an “unfortunate week that was created by some unfortunate decisions.” Hours and hours of commentary have been devoted to the subject.
Suddenly, Lefty, the most visible (and highest paid) of the players to defect to the LIV, is the worst thing to happen to golf since a fire hydrant and a tree jumped in front of Tiger Woods’ SUV.
Over the weekend, Mickelson played in the U.S. Open and shot 11 over through 36 holes just days after playing in the inaugural LIV tournament, where he finished 34th. Nothing went right. One of his shots hit a fan. He failed to make the cut. He’s had better weeks.
“Mickelson ripped for missing cut at U.S. Open,” read the headline on several news outlets (“ripped” was the favored verb of several outlets).
Social media cheered his flop.
“Did anyone tell Lefty there is actually a cut in (the) tournament?” read one Instagram post, referring to the no-cuts policy of LIV tournaments.
“Looks like LIV might have overpaid for this Mickelson guy,” read another.
“Looking at the state of Mickelson’s game, you can’t blame him for taking the money.”
“Phil Mickelson is ahead of 2 of 15 amateurs in the field at the U.S. Open.”
If someone is offered $200 million, guaranteed, he should definitely turn his back on it because … because … uh, why?
Because he feels some loyalty to the PGA Tour? Because he already has a boatload of money? Because the money comes from an evil empire?
Get a grip, everybody. Mickelson is one of about 50 players who has taken the LIV’s money and more will follow. This is a turf war, the AFL v. the NFL, Apple v. Microsoft, Coke v. Pepsi. It’s two businesses competing for market share and employees/players. The LIV wants a cut of the pro golfing pie, just as rival pro football leagues have tried to challenge the NFL for a piece of the action. The PGA Tour, which can no longer boast that it offers the most prize money or best players (except during the majors, so far), is trying to protect its turf.
One of the things that has set the PGA Tour apart in the sports world is that the players’ pay depends on performance — prize money. They can make much more through endorsements, but even that money is greatly determined by tournament performance. This makes the tournaments fiercely competitive; it creates drama and tension for players and fans. The players play as if they have a lot on the line, which they do. It puts a premium on competition (as opposed to the NBA, where there is no urgency).
LIV players are essentially paid a salary, so their living does not depend on performance in tournaments, and prize money is merely a bonus. “Where’s the incentive to go and play well?” PGA Tour player Rory McIlroy says.
On the other hand, the LIV pay model is no different than the way players are paid in the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS (but not pro tennis, which continues to be built around prize money). Nobody seems upset about that.
But Lefty and the other LIV golfers are taking dirty money, you cry! A lot of moralizing has been thrown into the LIV/PGA Tour showdown about the source of the money because Saudi Arabia ranks high on the list of countries that abuse human rights. A writer from ESPN even brought 9/11 into the fray and noted, “Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.”
ESPN continued, “While McIlroy said it was difficult to separate sports from politics and ‘dirty money from clean money’ in today’s world, he understands why the 9/11 survivors and families of victims are upset.”
If sports federations are going to start taking money only from those with clean hands, where does it start and end? The International Olympic Committee has no misgivings about doing business with China (host of two Olympic Games in the last 14 years) or Russia (host of the Olympics eight years ago).
The NBA does a reported $500 million worth of business in China each year while taking highly sanctimonious stands on domestic issues. World Athletics does business with Qatar (host of the 2019 World Track and Field Championships), as does FIFA (host of the World Cup this fall), and that country doesn’t get any points for human rights either.
Mickelson has made well over $800 million as a PGA Tour player, counting endorsements, prize money, etc. Some, including McIlroy, think that’s a reason to refuse the LIV money. Why does he need more? But where do we draw the line in professional sports, where the money is already so outrageous that no contract is big enough to raise eyebrows anymore.
According to Spotrac, there are 100 NFL players who own contracts worth $58 million or more and most of the money is guaranteed, including Deshaun Watson’s $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. There are 49 NBA players with contracts worth between $100 million and $228 million, and 99 players whose contracts are worth at least $50 million.
Who is going to decide what is too much? Didn’t they pass that threshold a long time ago? All of it is too much for one man.
Looking at the situation, Mickelson says, “I understand that it brings out a lot of strong emotions for a lot of people. I respect the way they may or may not feel about it.”
McIlroy is so worked up about LIV that he says he used it as motivation to win the Canadian Open and surpass Greg Norman with career win No. 21. Norman is the CEO of LIV.
“I had extra motivation with what’s going on across the pond,” McIlroy said. “The guy that’s spearheading that tour has 20 wins on the PGA Tour and I was tied with him and I wanted to get one ahead of him.”
Meanwhile, former Tour player Brandlee Chamblee tweeted that Mickelson should be removed from the PGA Hall of Fame. Following Mickelson’s press conference a few days before the start of the U.S. Open, he told Golfweek, “He’s suffering the consequences of a decision he made that some believe he was taking a flamethrower to the PGA Tour. By my count there were 22 questions and not a single question about being the oldest major champion of all time, not a single question about trying to complete the career Grand Slam. It was all about his decision to join a league that I think many view as an attempt at a hostile takeover.”
Who knew that changing employers could foster such a heated backlash.