Fore! Two Golf Legends Land in the Deep Rough
By Alan Resnick / Detroit
I have no idea if there are plans in the works for a fourth saga in the Dumb and Dumber movie franchise, films about the zany antics of a couple of dimwitted pals. Just in case casting is about to begin, however, here’s an idea for a couple of newcomers to play the hapless duo–golfers Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman.
Phil Mickelson would be on most people’s list as one of the top 10 golfers of all time. He has 57 professional wins, including victories at each of what are recognized as the sport’s four major championships–the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA. Significantly, Mickelson won last year’s PGA at age 50, making him the oldest major champion ever.
Mickelson announced last week that he will not be defending his PGA title at this year’s event, which begins on Thursday, May 19. This makes Mickelson only the fifth player in the last 60 years not to defend his championship in one of the four majors. Moreover, he is only the third PGA champion not to defend his title in the last 75 years. Ben Hogan couldn't play in 1949 while recovering after his car got struck by a bus and Tiger Woods missed in 2008 while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.
So, Mickelson must have slipped in the shower and broken his arm? Or maybe he wrenched his back bending down to pet the family pooch? Nope. Mickelson basically shot himself in the foot on February 17.
That was the day when Allan Shipnuck, a highly-respected former Sports Illustrated journalist who is writing an unauthorized biography of Mickelson, posted a story about a telephone interview conducted with Mickelson last year.
During the interview, Mickelson expressed his frustrations with the current PGA tour and revealed his thoughts about a new golf tour run by LIV Golf Investments. Mickelson said that he hoped the new tour would be used as leverage against the PGA tour: “They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics but 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.”
There’s just one itsy bitsy problem with the LIV Golf tour – it’s financially backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia, which is essentially the government's financial arm.
LIV Golf is attempting to poach the PGA tour’s biggest stars for its new tour by offering inducements such as a shortened season, guaranteed purses of $25 million per tournament, smaller playing fields, and a guaranteed payment of $120,000 for finishing last. On the PGA tour, the starting field of golfers is trimmed to the lowest 65 scorers after the first two rounds and those who miss the cut do not get paid.
And who is the head of PIF? None other than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of Saudi Arabia’s king. You may remember him as the person who, according to an intelligence report issued last year by the Biden Administration, approved the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Khashoggi was the Washington Post reporter never seen again after he was observed walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
Mickelson was less than delicate about the prospect of joining a fledgling golf league run by the Saudis: “They’re scary motherfuckers to get involved with. We know they killed 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 shape how the PGA Tour operates.”
So, Phil chose to cut the Saudis some slack for Kashoggi’s murder and their deplorable human rights record for some leverage over his current league and for bigger money. No surprise—Mickelson’s comments were not well-received by the public or by many of his fellow golfers.
As the blowback from his comments intensified, Mickelson decided it was time for shift into damage control mode. On February 22, Mickelson issued a statement claiming that the thought his comments to Shipnuck were off the record. And then he apologized: “I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions,” Mickelson said in his statement. “It was reckless, I offended people and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”
So far, so good, but why shoot yourself in only one foot when you have another one? “Golf desperately needs change, and real change is always preceded by disruption,” the statement continued. “I have always known that criticism would come with exploring anything new. I still chose to put myself at the forefront of this to inspire change, taking the hits publicly to do the work behind the scenes.”
Mickelson’s corporate sponsors were not impressed with his heroism. The same day that Mickelson made his self-serving “my bad,” KPMG, a professional services firm, which had been a sponsor of Mickelson since 2008, ended its endorsement agreement. Hours later, Heineken N.V., whose Amstel Light brand Mickelson endorsed, cut ties with the golfer. And on October 25, Callaway Golf became the latest sponsor to break with Mickelson, saying it was going to 'pause' a relationship that began in 2004.
Blessedly for all of us, Mickelson has been silent and self-reflecting since his apology. And it’s very easy to understand why he has not played in a tournament since then and chose not to defend his PGA title this time. Just imagine the questions that he’d be faced with at a press conference after he finished a round.
Greg Norman is the CEO of LIV Golf Investments. Norman, an Australian nicknamed “The Great White Shark,” was a wonderful pro golfer back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He cut a striking, swashbuckling figure on the golf course–blond hair, tanned, slim with wide shoulders, and a beak-like nose. He won the British Open twice and was a runner–up in eight other major tournaments.
Norman sometimes played the role of tragic figure in some of these runner-up finishes, losing on the last hole to incredible shots from his opponents. But he also is remembered for one of the all-time choke jobs in professional golf, leading the 1996 Masters by six strokes going into the final round, only to end up losing by five. Nick Faldo, the eventual winner and Norman’s playing partner. felt so bad for Norman that he took him in his arms and gave him a long hug after the round was finished.
Norman was involved in another choke job a few weeks ago, but this time in his role as CEO of LIV Golf. It occurred while he was being interviewed at a press conference on May 11 outside of London, the site of his organization’s first scheduled tournament, to be played in June.
Who would ever have guessed that Norman would be faced with tough questions about the Saudis from reporters? Apparently, not Greg Norman. Here’s how the interview was reported by The New York Times: “In a series of tense exchanges with reporters, Norman played down Khashoggi’s murder (‘Look, we’ve all made mistakes’); attempted to distance himself from Saudi Arabia’s recent execution of 81 individuals in a single day (‘I don’t look into the politics of things’); and sidestepped a question about Saudi Arabia’s treatment of the LGBT community by implying it does not affect him. ‘I’m not sure whether I even have any gay friends, to be honest with you,’ he said.”
Norman also claimed that he has yet to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and that LIV Golf Investments is independent and will not answer to the Saudi government or to the Crown Prince. I’m going to take a wild guess and speculate that Crown Prince Mohammed is not the type of boss who would be receptive to being told to “butt out” from a subordinate.
So why would Greg Norman decide to get into bed with the Saudis on LIV Golf? For you Wordle players, here are the five letters: MONEY.
It’s unclear how much Norman is being paid to front the new league. But in a May 16 story published by the Fire Pit Collective (in which unauthorized Mickelson biographer ]Shipnuck is a partner), Jack Nicklaus, 82, said that he was approached by the Saudis about a role similar to Norman’s: “I was offered something in excess of $100 million by the Saudis, to do the job probably similar to the one that Greg is doing. I turned it down. Once verbally, once in writing. I said: ‘Guys, I have to stay with the PGA Tour. I helped start the PGA Tour.’ ”
That’s a lot of money for playing dumb.
LIV Golf has certainly caught the attention of the PGA. The PGA has increased prize money on its tour this year by 17% to $427 million. And every member is being offered a $50,000 bonus for making at least 15 tournament starts during the season.
In addition to these carrots, the PGA has taken out a big stick. On May 10, the PGA announced that it will not grant membership waivers to play in LIV Golf’s initial tournament starting June 9 in London. Members who choose to play in the inaugural event could be subject to suspension or revocation of their tour membership.
This is a highly unusual step because the PGA has traditionally granted members waivers to play in European and Asian events that are not part of the tour. But LIV Golf is clearly viewed as a direct competitor and a significant threat.
It’s unclear how this whole disagreement will play out. It’s likely to end up in court. Professional golfers are individual contractors, so the PGA may not be within its rights to block them from their right to make a living.
What’s unmistakable, however, is the stench attached to Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman.
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.