Is Phil Mickelson worth $100 million?
There is no question that the Saudi financiers who are backing a proposed rival to the PGA Tour have the cash available to lure Mickelson and others. Some might even say they have that amount in petty cash.
If I believe my sources, which I do, the Saudis are willing to invest $1 billion in this new world tour, and that would be just the beginning. Starting and supporting a new golf tour – if they can get the players – media (i.e., television), venues and potential sponsors would cost far more than $1 billion.
But back to Mickelson: Is he worth it?
Let’s use the past week at the Wells Fargo Championship as an example of Lefty’s drawing power. He shot 7-under 64 to lead the first round. That should tell a potential employer a couple of things.
First, at one month shy of age 51, Mickelson still has the game to compete with the world’s best golfers. Though he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in more than two years – yes, he won in his first two starts on the Champions Tour last year – the 64 that he shot Thursday at Quail Hollow proved to be popular with fans and media. Though Mickelson faded the next day, he certainly drove more interest in the tournament than the play of Keith Mitchell, who led through 54 holes.
But the real power from Mickelson would be his help to the investors in getting a new tour off the ground.
By now, the Saudis realize that this venture might be more difficult than they had envisioned. Neither the PGA Tour nor European Tour is willing to listen. The PGA of America, R&A, USGA and Augusta National do not believe the grass would be any greener and likely would not make any change to their policies to facilitate a new tour.
So, the Saudis need a spokesman – a pitchman, if you will – who is respected, popular with fans and media and who can sell the product, first to other players and then to media and potential sponsors.
The easy part would be in luring potential sponsors. According to Forbes magazine, Mickelson has sponsor agreements with Callaway, Intrepid Financial Partners, KPMG, Exxon Mobil, Rolex, Grayhawk Golf Club, The Greenbrier resort and biotech company Amgen, which makes Enbrel, the medication used to treat the rheumatoid arthritis that afflicts Mickelson. Last year, he added Amstel Light beer and headwear brand Melin. Forbes does not mention Workday, but Mickelson clearly is involved with the California software company, as well.
With annual endorsements estimated at $40 million, Mickelson can get the Saudis into the right boardrooms. But the Saudis need a tour to sell, which means they need players. That seems to be the biggest hurdle of all.
The PGA and European tours stated unequivocally that any players who would jump to a rival tour would be banned from returning.
“Any player who signs up for this league will be immediately suspended and most likely will face permanent expulsion from the PGA Tour,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan reportedly said in a meeting with his players last week at Quail Hollow. That proclamation leaves little wiggle room for any curious player who might be tempted by the guaranteed money. Any player should have a pretty good understanding about the consequences, and the Saudis know it.
Mickelson might be the necessary bridge to create a pathway from the PGA Tour to an unnamed tour that could be highly lucrative, should it get off the ground. And that’s the rub. With so many unknowns, it seems like career suicide, except for Mickelson.
Mickelson, whose 44 victories rank ninth all-time, likely has won for the final time on the PGA Tour, and his window to win a sixth major championship probably closed a few years ago.
So why not take the $100 million and tell the Saudis that they should use him as the poster boy for the new tour? Mickelson could vow to do whatever possible to support the tour in its infancy. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, Mickelson could tell himself that he did everything within his power, and he would have $100 million in the bank.
What’s unclear is how that move might affect his endorsement deals. Of course, with his earning power diminishing as his skills ebb, those endorsement powers will start fading, as well.
Mickelson should take the money. He is arrogant enough to think that he can defeat the powers of established golf. At least we would have something interesting to write about for a couple of months.
And who knows? He might even get it done and be able to say to everyone that he was right and we were wrong.
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