Mickelson lambastes the PGA Tour’s ‘obnoxious greed’

Bernie McGuire

Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman, CEO of Liv Golf Investments in Saudi (Photo by Luke Walker/WME IMG/WME IMG via Getty Images)

Bernie McGuire

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By Bernie McGuire in Saudi.

‘Obnoxious greed’ is how Phil Mickelson has controversially labeled the PGA Tour.

Mickelson has been outspoken on many issues Tour-related but the shock comments of one of the PGA Tour’s poster boys for so long will surely ruffle the feathers of Jay Monahan and the staff at Tour HQ in Ponte Vedra.

And if you had any doubt that Mickelson is all set to turn his back on the PGA Tour and join a rebel multi-million dollar Saudi-backed Super Golf League, you have it with Mickelson absolutely lambasting the Tour on the eve of the fourth edition of the Saudi International.

Mickelson had been competing here in Wednesday’s pro-am, where he was spotted playing the later holes of the host Royal Greens course in the company of Greg Norman. Norman, and his much-younger female assistant of eight years, were then in the media centre interview room awaiting Mickelson’s arrival for the last scheduled press conference ahead of the $5m inaugural Asian Tour hosting of the event.

After a handful of questions, Mickelson’s manager began giving the convenor of the conference the wind-up signal before Mickelson proceeded to leave the room but with his manager stopping any further questions outside of the centre, as has been the practice here all week, with each and every other player who had attended a formal news conference.

In fairness, it was a fellow journalist representing Golf Digest US, with the magazine refusing to allow this journalist to accept any complimentary flights or accommodation to be present this week in Saudi Arabia, and who has known Mickelson for some time, who managed to get the lines from Mickelson.

Mickelson first spoke about the controlling nature of all things media when it comes particularly to the PGA Tour.

“It’s not public knowledge, all that goes on,” Mickelson said. “But the players don’t have access to their own media. If the tour wanted to end any threat [from Saudi or anywhere else], they could just hand back the media rights to the players. But they would rather throw $25 million here and $40 million there than give back the roughly $20 billion in digital assets they control. Or give up access to the $50-plus million they make every year on their own media channel.

“There are many issues, but that is one of the biggest for me personally, it’s not enough that they are sitting on hundreds of millions of digital moments. They also have access to my shots, access I do not have. They also charge companies to use shots I have hit. And when I did ‘The Match’—there have been five of them—the tour forced me to pay them $1 million each time. For my own media rights. That type of greed is, to me, beyond obnoxious.”

Of course, what transpires in professional golf with regards to media rights is no different t any other sport. Monahan is also on record in a note to players late last year that the tour’s consolidated revenue is tournament-related, either from sponsors or from domestic and international media. In the memo, Monahan also noted that 55 percent of the tour’s 2021 revenue will be directed back to players.

This Golf Digest article cited the now famed incident during the 2010 Masters, when Mickelson hit this remarkable shot from the pine straw down the right side of the 13th hole at Augusta National and with a media outlet (not named) being charged $30,000 for every second the seven-second clip was used.  The outlet was charged, according to the magazine, $3.5m for the usage of the clip.

“I’m not sure how this is going to play out,” Mickelson said. “My ultimate loyalty is to the game of golf and what it has given me. I am so appreciative of the life it has provided. I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know where things are headed. But I know I will be criticiSed. That’s not my concern. All that would do is dumb down one of the most intricate issues in sports. It would be so naive to not factor in all of the complexities. The media rights are but a small fraction of everything else. And it is the tour’s obnoxious greed that has really opened the door for opportunities elsewhere.”

In the brave new world Mickelson would like to see and help create, he has answers to his own questions. And plans he would like to make.

“Why hasn’t golf had cameras and microphones on players and caddies?” he asked. “Because the player would not benefit, only the tour [so players resist wearing them]. Take this Netflix project that is underway. None of the players are getting paid. But the tour is getting paid a lot of money. As is Augusta National. As is the USGA. But if the players had their own channel, maybe they put up their own content and we start to see golf presented a bit more intimately.

“If I had access to my own channel and access to my own media, I would have a camera and microphone on my hat and on my brother’s hat (His caddie). And on my golf bag with a 360 view. And I would bring the viewers in. They would see and hear what is going on.

“But none of that happens currently because why would any player do that? To make more millions for the tour? They already make enough. The tour only understands leverage. And now the players are getting some of that.

“So, things are changing and will continue to change. I just hope the leverage doesn’t go away. If it does, we’ll be back to the status quo.”

Mickleson had been at his diplomatic best in his news conference when asked his thoughts on such matters as the new frontiers announced for the Asian Tour and, of course, on the proposed breakaway Premier Golf League and the general growth in the game.

“I think everybody is looking at it and seeing parts of it that can really help and benefit their situation, their life, their career, and then there are parts of it that they’re probably concerned with,” he said.

“I’m appreciative of the fact that there is competition, and that leverage has allowed for a much better environment on the PGA Tour, meaning we would not have an incentive programme like the PIP for the top players without this type of competition. We would not have the increase in the FedExCup money.

“We would not have the increase in THE PLAYERS Championship to $20 million this year if it wasn’t for this threat. It was projected to get there in a couple years. To have a season-long payout for the top 10 guys on the FedExCup list came about last year for the first time at 10 million, it’s going to double to 20, I think, and that wouldn’t be around.

“I’m appreciative of the competition, and what my hopes are is that the biggest thing, which are media rights and the way the players have been used for so long, I hope that that changes through the competitive opportunity, as well.”

We then finished off his conference with the following questions:

Q. Are you able to tell us if you’ve had a direct offer to play in the Super League eventually?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think every player has been contacted. I don’t think there’s a player that hasn’t been. 

Q. So that’s a yes?

PHIL MICKELSON: It’s a softer way of saying, of answering your question directly. I’m just saying that pretty much every player that is in the top 100 I would say in the World Ranking has been contacted at some point, absolutely”.

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