Phil Mickelson may no longer be competing on the PGA Tour, but he’s sure not done competing with the PGA Tour.
Shortly after the completion of the second round of play in Boston at the latest LIV Golf Invitational series event, the 52-year-old stepped before reporters and delivered the latest blow against his former employer, likening himself and LIV as martyrs for professional golf in the wake of changes to the PGA Tour.
“I think the fans are getting a lot of benefit out of this, and all golfers, all professional golfers are getting a lot of benefit. The guys on the Tour are playing for a lot more money. It’s great that they magically found a couple hundred million; that’s awesome,” he said. “Everybody is I think in a better position now than they were a year ago.”
Mickelson’s comments came after a week headlined by changes to the PGA Tour structure driven by LIV’s growth. After months of loses to their new rivals, the Tour announced a new series of “elevated” events with the goal of convening the top players in the sport more regularly and compensating them at a higher level, among broader expansions aimed at paying top players.
The changes, of course, will be funded primarily by exploding PGA Tour revenues thanks to the league’s new media rights deals and secondarily by the “Tour reserves.” The reserves, which take a small chunk of the Tour’s annual revenues and are eventually returned in full to players, are footing only a small portion of the bill, according to the Tour. The reserves typically act like a savings account to keep the Tour solvent in the event of a crisis (like, for example, the Covid-19 pandemic), though the commissioner retains the authority to release the money under his own discretion.
Still, in many ways these changes represent the Tour’s best effort at addressing the problems first highlighted by Mickelson in his now-infamous diatribe at the Saudi International in January. At the time, Mickelson endorsed LIV’s rumored formation by slamming the Tour structure and hierarchy for what he viewed as unfairly taking money and resources from players, an offense he called “greed beyond obnoxious.”
With the developments of the last several weeks, top Tour players will now find themselves compensated at their highest-ever levels, and will face fewer challenges around travel, missed cuts and schedule-building. These changes, Mickelson said, were only possible because of the leverage created by LIV and the departure of dozens of top touring pros.
“Now [players are] being heard and things are changing,” Phil said. “Things have gotten better for everybody in professional golf and I believe for the fans, too, because they’re seeing golf in a different environment with LIV. They’re seeing on the Tour, the Tour is bringing their best players together more often. LIV is moving professional golf throughout the world.”
In some ways, he’s right. LIV did help to create leverage for the PGA Tour’s top players, and played an outsized role in forming the most sweeping changes seen in pro golf in at least five decades. The changes likely never happen if not for LIV, and certainly not if not for the dozens of Tour players who have since jumped ship, Mickelson among them.
“I didn’t say I felt vindicated, I said I felt happy for the guys, that they have a voice and they’re being valued and they’re being heard, and changes are being implemented to show that appreciation,” Mickelson said. “Because that hasn’t been the case, and it hasn’t had to be the case because there was no other option and no leverage.”
But there’s also a certain irony in Mickelson’s words. Irrespective of his efforts to the contrary, his role in shaping the future of professional golf will be remembered as a divisive one. Barring a crazy change of heart, Phil’s epitaph as a golfer will surround his role as the first player to throw his support behind the new rival league, and not for the changes influenced in the old one.
Whatever Mickelson’s role is in forming the Tour changes, he likely won’t ever bear the fruit of them (he’s suspended until at least 2024, if not longer), nor will history remember him as the player responsible for enacting them. In a twist of fate, that honor will belong to Phil’s old sparring partner, Tiger Woods, who rallied the support of the Tour’s top players behind the new structure in a rare players-only meeting last month.
Phil, for his part, has drawn his own line in the sand. With a $200 million signing bonus in his bank account and a good deal more coming in on-course earnings, Lefty’s time worrying about money — be it from LIV’s Saudi financiers or the PGA Tour — is all but over. That’s good news, because it seems his next battle has only just begun.