Phil Mickelson alleges world ranking ‘collusion’ taking place

phil mickelson

Phil Mickelson and broadcaster Colt Knost exchanged thoughts on LIV's fight for OWGR points Monday morning.

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It was a full 11 months ago that the first LIV Golf event was staged outside London. There were so many questions. What will the schedule look like? Who is on which team? How will these guys earn their way into major championships?

The answer to the last one, for golfers all over the world, has always been the Official World Golf Ranking, which awards points to golfers based on their performance in sanctioned tournaments. LIV wasn’t yet a sanctioned entity back in June 2022, so zero points were awarded. Notably, LIV failed to meet a number of criteria the OWGR typically requires out of tournaments it sanctions. Its commitment to hosting strictly 54-hole tournaments, instead of 72, was not exactly a shining badge of honor. Also, it was so early. So, so early. 

Now 11 months later, still no OWGR points have been awarded at LIV tournaments. The OWGR, which has a board of leaders from governing bodies across the golf world, has held up its typically lengthy approval process in the face of consternation among LIV pros, Greg Norman and LIV Golf fans. 

When will the OWGR sanction LIV tournaments? Will it ever happen? The questions linger over the sport. Very little has been concluded, and it seems to be irking Phil Mickelson. Perhaps understandably so. Mickelson is the face of LIV Golf. He was the highest paid commit last year, according to reports. He was the first player suspended from the PGA Tour as a result, according to court documents. And over the last eight months or so, once his Hy Flyers team began to take shape, Mickelson has been much more public with his thoughts. He’s leaned in even further to the LIV product. This league is his future. So he’s disgruntled that points aren’t being awarded, and he showed it in a testy exchange on Twitter Monday morning, fresh off a 15th-place finish at the LIV event in Singapore. 

CBS broadcaster (and podcast host) Colt Knost had replied to a tweet from a pro-LIV account that stated “50% of the world’s top golfers play on LIV and it’s the OWGR’s responsibility to adequately rank the world’s top golfers. 

Knost’s simple thought? “Please list them when you get a chance.”

In other words, Knost doesn’t think LIV has 50% of the top players. Of course, to understand this debate, you’d need parameters on how many top players there are, and who exactly is among them. We don’t have that, which makes for a lot of shouting online, bending definitions of the words great, elite and top-ranked. Essentially what unfurled in Knost’s replies. 

Eventually, more than 30 hours after Knost’s original response, Mickelson chimed in: “Colt. It is not our job. It is the owgr’s job to rank ALL the players in the world. Maybe they can do THEIR job and figure it out like they do for multiple tours with hundreds of players not even close to as good. But that would hurt the PGA’s revenue from CBS so the leaders won’t”

First-timers to this show would need a guidebook to keep track of everything Mickelson is saying. It is true that the OWGR ranks players on many tours world-wide. Twenty-four tours, to be exact. LIV wants to be the 25th. The PGA Tour “revenue” he speaks of is the arrangement between the Tour and its media rights holders, such as CBS, which, as mentioned, is Knost’s employer. The Tour signed a nine-year deal with ESPN, NBC and CBS that began in 2022. Its value is reportedly worth more than $600 million. 

To all partners involved, inclusive of the companies that would sponsor a Tour event, it is imperative that as many top-ranked players take part as possible. It all feeds a cycle of value. More top-ranked players tend to garner more eyeballs from fans at home; more eyeballs means increased value to the advertising in commercial breaks and sponsors; more advertising means more revenue for rights holders; more revenue for rights holders means more value for the TV contract. And the next TV contract. 

Now, is there a stipulation in the contracts that relies on quality of field or top-ranked players competing for the sake of TV revenue? We do not know. The PGA Tour does not make the specifics of its contract public. Has Mickelson tweeted about this before? Yes he has, back in March. He has also, at times, inaccurately assessed aspects of the Tour’s business model. Notably, when he said that the PGA Tour has $20 billion in digital assets.

Knost responded to Mickelson, saying, “Respectfully, why did you never lobby for [world ranking] points from the start? Why did you not argue for points when you played on pga tour champions?”

In fairness, Mickelson and most of the LIV players have been lobbying for OWGR points from the start. But at this point, as Mickelson made clear in his response, he doesn’t need OWGR points himself. He’ll be playing every major championship for a number of years. It’s more a battle he intends to wage on behalf of his fellow LIV players. Mickelson sees the lack of points as evidence of “collusion behind closed doors to help [Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] get all his tv money.” 

All of this is layered with context that Knost and Mickelson have known each other a long time. They used to play the occasional practice round together during Knost’s playing days on Tour. They have gone in separate directions in recent years, but at their core they are two of the best talkers in the game. They have informed opinions and often enjoy sharing them. But in this case, we weren’t getting very far. The conversation kept spinning around, never quite reaching a conclusion. Knost kept asking questions like, “If you knew going in you were not going to get points why would y’all have addressed it before the tour started?”

Mickelson kept addressing what he thinks is obvious collusion. That the seven-person board of the OWGR — which includes heads from the four major championships, the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour — is working together to keep LIV down. “It’s obvious to me why. It should be to you, too,” Mickelson said in the final tweet of substance.

What became clear at the end was that this Twitter back-and-forth would remain just that: a Twitter back-and-forth. Knost offered up the chance to bring the conversation to his GOLF Subpar podcast, but Mickelson declined. 

“No thanks,” he said. “I prefer tweeting like we are,” followed by two thumbs-up emojis.

Sean Zak Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.

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