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Hello friends, and welcome to a mid-week *Emergency* Rogers Report.
If you’re like me, you’ve heard a LOT of late about Phil Mickelson, the Saudi Golf League, Alan Shipnuck’s article and the mess that has unfolded since. But there are so many moving pieces that I figured somebody needed to lay it all out in one place.
Why me? Well, a lot of pals come to me for info on the Golf Drama™️, so I’d like to think of myself as something of an expert. Plus I’ve been reading “Football for Dummies,” since I need that game described to me as if I’m a little kid. So I’ve decided to pay it forward and give you all the same treatment with this Mickelson drama. Without further ado I’d like to present an unauthorized timeline of Mickelson’s last several months as seen on social media. Let’s dive in!
Phil wins the PGA Championship
Last May, Mickelson became golf’s oldest major championship when he took home the Wanamaker after holding off Brooks Koepka at Kiawah. At 50 years, 11 months and 3 days old, Lefty proved that he could not only keep up with the young guns — he could run right past ’em. And boy, did he take advantage of the win on social media.
Phil celebrates the PGA Championship
It truly turned into the Summer of Phil. If you’d forgotten his incredible win at Kiawah, well, he wouldn’t let you forget for long.
Phil’s team wins the Ryder Cup
Mickelson also crushed his role as a vice-captain at the 2021 Ryder Cup, where he leaned in on patriotism — especially after his team won in a rout.
Phil wins some more
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Lefty also won four of his first six starts (!) on the PGA Tour Champions. Life was really good for Phil Mickelson.
Proposed Saudi League looms — and Phil’s name comes up
Rumors of a competing golf tour have been swirling since 2019 or even earlier, but it wasn’t until the end of October that Greg Norman was named the CEO of new golf company called LIV Golf Investments. The majority shareholder of LIV Golf Investments? The Public Investment Fund, the investment arm of the Saudi Arabian government. With a stated mission to “holistically improve the health of professional golf on a truly global scale and support existing stakeholders to help unlock the sport’s untapped potential,” the League would have fewer events, bigger purses and alternate formats when compared with the PGA Tour.
In the coming months, rumors swirled about players being offered millions to sign on with the league including Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and more.
Phil’s beef with the PGA Tour
Some background info: The PGA Tour owns all players’ media rights at events. Not only that, but they own all on-site video rights as well. (In other words, if you try to monetize a video from a Tour event, it’s probably not going to happen.)
As my pal and coworker James Colgan wrote, “the Tour generates money from domestic and international television deals (NBC/CBS and Sky Sports, respectively), domestic and international streaming deals (ESPN+ and Discovery). The Tour also owns the rights to all its digital and archival footage, which generate licensing fees and other small pieces of revenue. Those agreements generate close to half of the Tour’s annual revenue, per documents reviewed by GOLF.com.”
Look, the rules are the rules. Would the players rather make money off their famous shots than have the Tour do so instead? Sure. But Mickelson appeared to feel especially strongly about it. In an interview with Golf Digest, Mickelson said that the Tour was gatekeeping “roughly $20 billion” in media assets and “hundreds of millions of digital moments” that belong to the pros. He said in his Wednesday press conference at the Saudi International that “the Tour’s obnoxious greed that has really opened the door for opportunities elsewhere.” That elsewhere referred to the Saudi-backed league.
Mickelson also took to Twitter to explain that in order to participate in Capital One’s The Match (which is a telecast outside of the Tour’s schedule and media partners), he had to pay a million-dollar fine. The Tour, however, confirmed that it was Turner Sports who paid the fee on Mickelson’s behalf.
The Tour shot down several of Mickelson’s claims and shared that over $800 million goes to PGA Tour players every year, which Colgan said, “represents 55 percent of the Tour’s more than $1.5 billion in revenues — a percentage that is on par with other professional sports leagues.”
When Golf Digest posted a Phil Mickelson quote graphic on Instagram, Brooks Koepka commented “[I don’t know] if I’d be using the word greedy if I’m Phil …” which seemed to mark the first time a player spoke out against Mickelson’s comments. It wouldn’t be the last. Let’s fast forward to last week’s Genesis Invitational, where the talk of the town was the Saudi league.
Phil’s quotes mean drama at the Genesis
I could never do this article justice, but here was the bit that turned heads:
“They’re scary motherf—— to get involved with,” he said. “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.”
Woah! And with that, Mickelson burned bridges with both the PGA Tour and the Saudi Golf League. The quotes seemed so bad for Mickelson’s situation it was almost impressive.
He added that the Tour was sitting on “hundreds of millions of dollars worth of digital content we could be using for our social media feeds.” As a social media editor, I think he’s right that pros could profit big-time — though his numbers are giant and tough to confirm.
I’d chalk this whole thing up to an “open-mouth-insert-foot” moment, but that wouldn’t do it justice.
Tour players speak out
“Seems like a bit of a pretty, you know, egotistical statement. 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 that [league], if they’re that passionate, go ahead. I don’t think anybody’s stopping them,” Thomas said.
McIlroy used even more of his vocabulary:
Also relevant: The same week Mickelson’s comments leaked, McIlroy, Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau all pledged their allegiance to the PGA Tour.
Phil goes radio silent
If you’re on Golf Twitter you know that Phil Mickelson loves to get in the mix. Look at his reply section and you’ll see him engaging with fans, making silly remarks and more often than not, tooting his own horn. Simply put, he’s been a rockstar on social media. This all changed after Shipnuck’s article was released last week. Mickelson went silent. This is the polar opposite of the Mickelson we “know” — the man who was so quick to slam a gambling article written about him last June in Detroit.
Last week, I put my Tweet notifications on for Phil Mickelson and got nothing! I’m not sure what I expected him to say, but I expected him to say something. It was a long week of waiting.
Phil (kind of) apologizes
Phil Mickelson released the following statement on Tuesday:
Ok, there’s a LOT to digest here, which my coworker Dylan Dethier did beautifully:
Basically, this is the kind of half-apology I’d give to a sibling when I was ten. “I apologize for anything I said that was taken out of context” is the perfect way to say sorry without meaning it at all.
Then there’s the whole issue of “on the record” vs. “off the record” which a journalist like Alan Shipnuck would be unlikely to mess up. Not to mention Mickelson, who went pro in 1992, has had more than his fair share of media requests. He knows how this works.
Mickelson said he wouldn’t blame his sponsors if they dropped him, and that’s exactly what KPMG did.
As of now, Workday, Callaway, Mizzen + Main and Rolex still sponsor him.
We’ve heard the phrase “unprecedented times” tossed around a lot in the last two years, but that’s exactly where the golf world sits right now. It’s a good thing Netflix is making a docuseries on golf, because this might be the best possible reality television.
Mickelson claimed he “desperately needs some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.” What does this mean? I’ve heard guys in their mid-20s say that during a break-up, but never a 51-year-old in the twilight of his career. When will he play next? My original thought was that he’d be suspended from the PGA Tour, but it might not be that simple. According to Norman, it wouldn’t even be legal.
Is Mickelson’s PGA Tour legacy irreparably damaged? Will he ever become an honorary starter at the Masters? Is a Ryder Cup captaincy in jeopardy? How does he prioritize those traditions over a big payday, anyway? With every chapter, more questions follow. We’ll have to wait and see what comes next.