The controversy surrounding Phil Mickelsen is a hot topic in the world of golf and a major distraction to the PGA Tour season. Mickelsen’s behavior seems to be a bit enigmatic in tacitly supporting the new LIV Tour managed by Greg Norman’s company. It seems that Mickelsen could have handled the controversy in a more pragmatic manner. Mickelsen is a popular figure who has brought considerable excitement to the PGA Tour throughout his career with his swashbuckling style and risk taking on the golf course. He is fan favorite in many venues especially in the New York metropolitan area. We can all remember the 18th hole at Winged Foot where he lost the US Open with a lost drive offset by a spectacular performance at Kiawah last year to win the PGA Championship at age 50. Mickelsen’s comments supporting the new tour and his critique of the PGA Tour have had significant negative repercussions for him and were unnecessary. He could have supported the new tour if that is what he wanted to do without the political overhang that has cost him dearly financially and reputationally. He has lost considerable endorsement deals with almost all of his sponsors since instead of just making comments about the tours, he had to delve into the source of the new tours funding source-the Saudi Arabian government with all the attendant political overtones. His response was essentially to withdraw from PGA Tour events through self imposed exile instead of playing and this week he has decided not to compete to defend his PGA Championship at Southern Hills. The fans are taking sides and talking about Phil’s gambling problem, financial condition and all the rest of the nonsense on social media. Essentially Phil’s personal life is really none of anybody’s business but he has a responsibility as an important successful athlete to get to the golf course and apply his craft. It’s really difficult to understand what is really going on but its disappointing that an ever popular Phil is absent from playing golf. I also miss his very entertaining Workday advertisements.
The idea of an alternative professional tour is nothing new to the world of sport. Football has tried it a number of times with the the USFL and basketball has a number of attempts. Alternative tours expand the potential for their athletes to compete on a professional level and widens the potential talent base to feed the major league. In golf the PGA Tour of America and the European PGA Tour (now called the DP Tour) are the tours where qualified players can compete for substantial purses and national championships. There are a number of mini-professional tours that serve as competitive venues for aspiring professionals to ascend to the PGA Tour. The LIV Tour is managed by Greg Norman and funded by the Saudi Arabian government through one of their investment funds. The purses offered by this tour are expected to be substantial and much higher than events on the PGA Tour. Norman has been soliciting current PGA and European players to join the tour and its not really known who will compete but Mickelsen is expected to participate. Professional golfers are independent contractors and have freedom of choice but they do have certain procedural and maybe legal obligations with the PGA Tour. Golfers need releases from the PGA Tour in order to compete in an alternative tour and thus far its pretty unclear whether any releases will be granted to those players that would choose to try the LIV Tour. Releases from the PGA Tour are usually for one off events and not to be in full competition for the PGA Tour. The LIV Tour would appeal to those players that have a lot of good golf left in their bag but are not old enough to compete and qualify for the PGA Senior Tour. Players such as Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson are proven talents on the PGA Tour but their careers have probably crested on the PGA Tour as the new crop of stars such as Justin Thomas, Scottie Sheffler, Jordan Speith begin to dominate the Tour. The size of the purses in the LIV Tour are attractive enough to pull these guys forward and they each have decisions to make. It doesn’t appear that the PGA Tour will give their players releases to play on the LIV Tour and while the issues may end up in court–these processes take years to decide, which may impact their decisions to proceed. The leading players on the PGA Tour are not going to leave the Tour irrespective of the money offered. Players such as Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas have been adamant in stating that have no intention of leaving the PGA Tour. While money is important to every professional golfer, the pursuit of major championships and the competitive element at the highest level is very important to these players. Things will probably get nasty between Norman and the PGA Tour over players’ rights to leave the PGA Tour so this will probably end up in the courts. In my view, the LIV Tour will have trouble gaining traction, even if they get a cadre of great players, because it’s not likely that it will have the necessary sponsors to establish its public credibility. Sponsors will have trouble associating their advertising spending with a tour backed by the Saudi government. Mickelsen has already suffered the fate of losing his lucrative sponsorships with his comments regarding the Saudis.
I suggest that we should leave all of this behind and look forward to this week’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills. The biggest question here is whether Tiger Woods will be able to compete. He has been there to practice and is registered to play so we’re hoping that he’ll play. Scottie Sheffler had a good week in Texas and is looking forward to sinking his teeth into another major championship.