Mickelson self-destructs as Norman stirs the pot for Saudi League

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The Phil Mickelson saga continues to dominate professional golf news with numerous sponsors dropping Lefty, the PGA Tour removing him as host of the American Express Championship and many players and media members viewing him as toxic after his comments and lame apology. It may not be the end for Phil, but it does look like he’s down for the count at the moment. How does he recover?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’d suggest he retire from golf and take up the priesthood, but I’m not sure that’s the right answer these days, either. As a former PR guy, I’d suggest that Phil do some serious consulting with PR professionals to get his answers straight, then hold a news conference in which he EXPLAINS himself and his comments, admits to being tone-deaf about what greed is, admits to serious discrepancies between his public self and private self (the swagger, the gambling), THEN apologize to his fellow PGA Tour pros (and Jay Monahan) for embarrassing the PGA Tour… and finally declare that he will be taking the rest of 2022 off to reassess his focus and priorities.  In short, a full mea culpa. It can’t hurt at this point.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I mean this with utmost respect, but there are plenty of players who have said and done much worse things than Phil has. I was never Phil’s biggest fan, I just liked watching him play golf (all over the map) and appreciated his long-standing competitiveness, that’s it though. Never did I think he was full of wonderful, great ideas, and would make the game better, etc. I think some will still accept him back, not think too much of recent events, some will roast him though, he definitely lost fans over this.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I told you to fasten your seat belts; this is going to be one Hell of a ride. Phil has four choices, retire, play the Saudi Tour, play the European or Asian Tour or re-join the USA Tours and take the wrath. Being ‘picky’ I noticed one of the first things Phil said in his defence was “I’ve always signed every autograph and treated all the little kids great.” If that’s his natural behaviour, why does he have to brag about it now? I’m tired of him and his two-faced, double standards. Let him take his imitation act of Arnie’s thumbs up and……. I don’t care what he does.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: That Callaway hit the pause and not the delete button is really in the spirit of founder Ely Callaway, who famously and expensively tried to save John Daly from himself. Here’s hoping Phil is under the thrall of ego and not one of Daly’s demons. The sporting public, particularly in the States, is traditionally very forgiving — i.e.: Eldrick Woods — but even with a full-blown and honest mea culpa any Phil recovery will not be total. Right now, it’s hard to imagine even the first steps.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Winning the Masters might help. Or jumping to the new Saudi-backed league. If he has any plans to play on the PGA Tour again, a lengthy disappearing act combined with a dedicated vow of silence would be wise. Look, he’s not OJ Simpson, so there is a path to forgiveness and redemption. Virtually every weasel, scoundrel and nitwit in American business, politics and sports eventually gets another chance. Phil just has to wait his turn.

Despite the Mickelson mess and many top PGA Tour players pledging allegiance to the Tour, Greg Norman and LIV continue to push forward. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan reiterated his threat to ban for life any player jumping to the rival league, while Norman sent everybody a letter claiming that kind of ban wouldn’t hold up in court. So far, it’s just a lot of talk on both sides. What’s Norman’s best move now.

Deeks: Norman has nothing to lose by standing his ground… except he WILL lose the battle with the Tour, the Saudi League will die on the vine, and life will return to normal, albeit with better monetary opportunities for the pros. (So, in that sense, thank you, Greg and Phil). Despite his deserved reputation as one of the great all-time players, Norman never had many friends on the Tour in his era, and I can’t see many of today’s stars wanting to curry his favour now (except maybe a guy like Patrick Reed.)  He’s a very rich man who may claim to be acting in the players’ best interests, but don’t think there aren’t a few million oil dollars being pumped into his pockets. So again, he has nothing to lose but his reputation, which was never that solid anyway.

Loughry: I honestly don’t know how this plays out. But if you’re Norman, and you want to find out if Jay is bluffing, sign upfront money a player of significance and announce it. Players who are better than that player and see the money they’re making, may just consider it out of jealousy. If Player A ranked 80th in the world gets a guaranteed contract/payday of $40M, and any player ranked higher can realistically only make (variable, as there are no guarantees on the PGA Tour) $20M….at some point the pendulum shifts for some of those higher ranked players. Another move could be to actually find out the legality of a “ban” of players. At this point, neither side looks great at the moment.

Schurman: This isn’t about Saudi’s record on Human Rights! It’s about competition disguised as Human Rights. If Jay Monahan said he can ban USA PGA TOUR Players for life if they sign with the Saudis, why hasn’t he banned those who played the recent Saudi International played opposite Pebble Beach? Aren’t those players endorsing the Saudi Human Rights Record? Why hasn’t he banned Greg Norman from ever playing a PGA TOUR or Champions Tour event? As a 20-time winner, he has a lifetime membership. I don’t like the Saudi record either but then I don’t like the USA record or the Chinese record, yet we watch and play in those countries. Joohyung Kim won in Asia which should give him entry into the British Open, but Martin Slumbers said “No”. Then Kim won in Singapore and therefore does gain entry. If Mr. Slumbers and Mr. Monahan were consistent Joohyung Kim should be banned for playing in Asia let alone winning there. Phil Mickelson bragged openly about helping build the Tournament Manual for the Saudis. Why isn’t he banned for life?

Quinn: All he has to do is explain that his letter of last week was taken out of context and was supposed to be off the record. Then he can tell the Tour that he’ll simply walk away from the desert while walking back everything he’s done and said publicly for the past year, asking in return only that he be named permanent captain of the Presidents Cup team and said teams will wear Shark gear, exclusively. Simple.

Mumford: The Saudi International was a huge success and proved that many of the best players will follow the money if given half a chance. What they’re less likely to do is sign on to a new Tour that has requirements to play as many as 18 events. They’re already members of a restrictive Tour – why do they want another one. Norman could restructure his League to be a series of World class events as part of the Asian Tour with huge purses and different formats. If he can show that his Tour can co-exist with the PGA Tour, he will gain a lot of adherents. The PGA Tour is a greedy, power-hungry bully and not likely to cede anything unless the members want it. Show them a way.

Zach Johnson was announced as Captain of the U.S. team for the Ryder Cup matches in 2023. Good choice or was there a better option?

Deeks: Yeah, sure, good choice. As long as he doesn’t try to impose prayer meetings on the team, which is not guaranteed.

Loughry: Lots of alternative options versus Z. Johnson. Why not David Tom’s? He’s been a great representative. We have the advantage of time on our side with recent happenings, but were they ever considering Phil Mickelson? Yes, that would have backfired considering all the recent controversy. What about Stewart Cink? I think he’d be make a good captain. But they went with a mediocre pick for their Captain.

Schurman: I’m still disappointed Hale Irwin and Johnny Miller were never appointed. Zack is a good choice, a possible Hall of Famer and certainly lower key than Phil.

Quinn: Never been a fan, but Zach’s the obvious choice if you’ve bought in to the US “System,” which ironically grew out of Phil’s public eviscerating of Captain Tom Watson, and the Americans have. Zach knows the ‘pod’ concept and all the rest after being an assistant captain twice. Sure, he’s played in five Cups, and four Presidents Cups, but what matters is that he’s worked his way up through it and “knows the system.” The Yanks haven’t won an away Cup for 30 years, so whether or not Zach can work the ‘system’ on the road is a whole ‘nuther story.

Mumford: Johnson is the heir apparent after serving as vice captain twice. He has two majors, a dozen wins on Tour and an 8-7-2 Ryder Cup record as a player. Apparently, the players respect him and like his selection. “He’s a bulldog; he’s a team guy; he’s good people.” But like his 2007 Masters win, his appeal with the public is less enthusiastic. If it’s true the captain does little more than pick the shirts and fill out the lineup card, then almost anyone could handle the role. Davis Love designed the current system of selecting captains after the Tom Watson take-down (thank you Phil) and it appears it’s destined to deliver a series of low key, low energy, low interest managers who put in their time and rise up the ranks like it’s the Department of Motor Vehicles. Yawn! Tiger Woods would be a truly inspired choice to lead the Americans to a win in Europe for the first time in 30 years. Even better if he’s a playing captain.

 

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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