Phil Mickelson has ruled social media in 2019. Now everyone has turned on him following a questionable decision
The easy line, and one that was stuck to rigidly at this year’s Saudi International, is that sport and politics don’t mix.
“I’m not a politician. I play golf,” explained Dustin Johnson who, it seems a racing certainty to boldly suggest, will never run for anything at any stage of his life.
Then, before too long, there’s talk of “growing the game” and other nauseating phrases which can all be washed away by the very simple explanation that “I’m here for the money”. Having flown 7,500 miles from my cosy home in Florida I’m here to add another layer of zeros to my bank balance for not very much other than the discomfort of a 15-hour flight.
Whatever else happens the bottom line is that I will be remunerated very handsomely – reports suggested that Sergio Garcia was paid £500,000 for his efforts in Saudi, a figure he got to keep despite being disqualified – so you might expect Phil Mickelson to be maybe twice that given he’s now committed to the event.
Who knows? Who cares?
The Euro Tour’s entire business model is built on taking lucre from brutal, oppressive regimes. I ‘spose Pelley considers it his duty to provide playing opportunities or the Tour middle class. But big stars don’t need to cash in. (Ask Rory.) When they do, they deserve criticism. https://t.co/ov3LVdOuVb
— Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) December 2, 2019
The left-hander should be able to join his countrymen on one of their private jets as there are plenty of them – defending champ Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Tony Finau are all in – who have picked this particular week to help “grow the game” on the European Tour.
“I am really looking forward to playing in Saudi Arabia in January,” Mickelson’s statement read. “I watched Dustin win the title last year and thought the course looked like an interesting challenge. I have enjoyed my previous visits to the Middle East (the last being in Abu Dhabi five years ago) and am looking forward to playing in a new country and doing my bit to grow the game in the Kingdom.”
There was more flannel from Finau with his words: “I’ve always believed that to be considered a world-class player, you must compete in premier tournaments around the world.”
You’re not wrong there Tony. Why not warm up for the Open Championship by coming a week early and getting involved in the Scottish Open? Wentworth might be a bit funky in places these days but the crowds are ridiculous, the field’s spot on, and I’m sure Mr Pelley will see you right for an invite.
Mickelson might not be in the world’s top 50 any more but he’s still as relevant as any of the above and, given his standing in the game, will always get more stick than the others. The Saudi International takes place the same week as the Waste Management Phoenix Open which means that Mickelson will miss it for the first time in 30 years as a professional, something that, bizarrely, seems to have offended some people as much as the part of the world that he has chosen to play.
Everybody has a choice and these players have made theirs. Eddie Pepperell played this year and he explained his stance. Others like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who reportedly turned down more than $3 million to play, have gone the other way.
“The problem with taking a moral approach to us playing is that it would lay bare many contradictions of the past,” Pepperell wrote. “Like, for example, why do we play in China? Or Qatar? Or Turkey? It clearly is true that Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is questionable at best, and appalling to anyone in the West. But should that mean we boycott competing?
“That probably depends who you are. I can really only speak for myself, and plus, remember I’m not being paid to be here, so I’m only slightly less immoral than the top guys who have showed up.”