- Phil Mickelson could be one of the high-profile golfers to join the Saudi-backed Super Golf League.
- Mickelson defended any deal with the Saudis by citing the leverage it gives against the PGA Tour.
- Mickelson said pressure on the PGA Tour was worth it despite human rights abuses by the government.
Phil Mickelson’s critiques of the PGA Tour have gone from odd to shocking.
In early February, Mickelson expressed frustration with how the PGA Tour handled its finances and rewarded top players.
Mickelson has made more than $94 million through tournament winnings playing on the PGA Tour and millions more in endorsement deals during his time as a professional golfer.
Mickelson wants to use new Saudi league to force change in the PGA Tour
Mickelson’s February critique came amidst rumors that he could be one of the centerpieces of the breakaway “Super Golf League” that will attempt to challenge the PGA Tour. The Super Golf League, or SGL, is backed by the Saudi government and has been criticized as “sportswashing” — an attempt by the Saudi government to launder their reputation by aligning with high-profile sporting events enjoyed by fans worldwide.
PGA Tour pros who have played in tournaments held in Saudi Arabia, often for large guaranteed paydays, have been asked about sportswashing. They usually do their best to avoid a direct response, instead citing an interest in “growing the game” of golf.
But in an interview with Alan Shipnuck of the Fire Pit Collective, author of the forthcoming book “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar,” Mickelson went another direction. He acknowledged many of the accusations against the Saudi government but argued that negotiating with the upstart golf league was a worthy cause to gain leverage against the PGA Tour.
“They’re scary motherfuckers to get involved with,” Mickelson said, per Shipnuck. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.
“They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”
Mickelson continued, going as far as to compare the PGA Tour to a “dictatorship.”
“The Tour likes to pretend it’s a democracy, but it’s really a dictatorship,” Mickelson told Shipnuck. “They divide and conquer. The concerns of the top players are very different from the guys who are lower down on the money list, but there’s a lot more of them. They use the top guys to make their own situation better, but the top guys don’t have a say.”
Big names are being linked to the new golf league
Mickelson appears to view the PGA Tour as a lesser of two evils but finds it worth it to negotiate with the greater of two evils because of the leverage it would provide.
At this point, it’s unclear which players would be involved with the Super Golf League and when or if it will start, but several stars, including Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, have been rumored to receive offers.
“I think there’s already been 17 guys that have jumped over [to the Super Golf League], and I can’t say who they are, but there’s going to be some big names,” Hickok said.
Justin Thomas called Mickelson’s statement ‘egotistical’
Mickelson’s comments came under immediate criticism across the golf world, with some of his fellow players also calling him out.
“Seems like a bit of a pretty, you know, egotistical statement,” said Justin Thomas, according to Golf Digest. “I don’t know. It’s like he’s done a lot of great things for the PGA Tour, [he’s] a big reason it is where it is. But him and others that are very adamant about [exploring the SGL], if they’re that passionate, go ahead. I don’t think anybody’s stopping them.”
Mickelson’s comments only make his potential involvement in the league murkier — is he actually ready to jump ship, or simply using the threat of the Super Golf League for leverage against the PGA Tour? If it’s the latter, could the PGA Tour call his bluff and simply let him play elsewhere?
We won’t know anything for certain until players are public and dates are set. Until then, Mickelson’s comments are sure to bring him even more questions about his future plans.