Phil Mickelson claims his ‘$1 billion’ proposal was ignored by PGA Tour

Phil Mickelson of USA looks on during a practice round prior to the PIF Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on February 01, 2023 in Al Murooj, Saudi Arabia.

Phil Mickelson at the PIF Saudi International last month.

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When PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was asked Tuesday at the Players Championship if the rise of LIV Golf forced the PGA Tour to rethink its own approach, he launched into a 581-word response in which, predictably, he declined to give the rival league even an ounce of credit.

Monahan said the Tour began evolving and innovating long before LIV became a legitimate threat — as supporting evidence Monahan cited the Tour’s frequent tinkering with the FedEx Cup Playoffs structure, its partnership with Netflix and its decision to resume conducting tournaments at the height of the pandemic — before ultimately concluding, “To me, the credit goes to all of our players out here and also goes to our fans. We’ve listened to our fans and we’ve responded and we’re returning to our fans what they have told us that they wanted.”

It was a nice sentiment but also woefully incomplete, because of course LIV played a role in forcing the Tour’s hand.

Just ask the players.

A tense PGA Tour players meeting outlined pro golf’s future. Now what?
By: Dylan Dethier

“Without LIV Golf, this wouldn’t have happened,” Jon Rahm said Tuesday of the radical overhaul to the Tour schedule and payouts. “So to an extent, like I’ve said before, we should be thankful this threat has made the PGA Tour want to change things.” Added Rory McIlroy: “I’m not going to sit here and lie: I think the emergence of LIV or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf. I think when you’ve been the biggest golf league in the biggest market in the world for the last 60 years, there’s not a lot of incentive to innovate. This has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour, and what was quite, I would say, an antiquated system is being revamped to try to mirror where we’re at in the world in the 21st century with the media landscape.” 

None of this is to say, however, that players weren’t lobbying for change even before LIV came along. Chief among those lobbyists, of course, was Phil Mickelson, who 14 months ago, in an explosive interview with John Huggan of Golf Digest, surfaced his grievances with the Tour. Mickelson’s primary gripe was that the Tour owns and profits from its players’ media rights; he also was miffed that players weren’t being compensated for the Netflix deal. “It is the Tour’s obnoxious greed that has really opened the door for opportunities elsewhere,” he said.    

On Tuesday, Mickelson added a new wrinkle to the saga when he claimed, via a tweet, that before he had committed to LIV, he had recruited a sponsor to underwrite a series of “elevated” events for the PGA Tour that sounds strikingly similar to the “designated” events schedule the Tour will institute next year.     

“Before I left I brought a $1 billion commitment from a current PGA Tour partner to have 8 elevated events and give equity and ownership in these events to the players,” Mickelson wrote. “JM’s [Jay Monahan] quote was ‘I don’t believe the league is going to happen so we won’t be doing that.’ No vote, no discussion.”

On Wednesday, in the same Twitter thread, Mickelson added, “By all means please ask JM about this. I’d love for him to be on the record about this or the owgr being tied to the tv deal or any thing else I’ve said. I have multiple layers of proof on all of it. Let’s see how he chooses to respond, and I’m curious if anyone will even ask.”

A Tour spokesperson did not respond to a inquiry about the validity of Mickelson’s claim.

In the year-plus since Mickelson’s mutiny and subsequent defection to LIV, you can understand if he has felt pangs of “I-told-you-so” satisfaction. We can quibble over the legitimacy of Mickelson’s media-rights beef — virtually all sports leagues own their players’ media rights — but his overarching point that too much money was flowing into the Tour’s coffers and not enough into the star players’ pockets is now being addressed with sweeping changes.

When in September of last year the Tour first announced plans for designated events and richer purses for the best players, Mickelson said, “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. Because that hasn’t been the case, and it hasn’t had to be the case because there was no other option.”

Now, there is another option, and it’s impact has resulted in a seismic shift in how the world’s best professional golfers are compensated, to the tune of $415 million in prize money in 2023, plus another nearly $150 million in bonuses. Take this week at TPC Sawgrass alone, where the players will compete for a share of a $25 million purse and a $4.5 million winner’s check; those numbers represent increases from just five years ago of roughly $14 million and $2.5 million, respectively. As Joel Dahmen tweeted recently, “It’s a good time to #playbetter.”

Can Mickelson take credit for that? Not wholly. But he undoubtedly has played a role.

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