Apologies are a test of character, and Phil Mickelson’s revealed his.

Legend has it that Marcus Licinius Crassus of Rome was killed by the mutineering men he’d led into a failed battle, who poured molten gold down their leader’s throat in mockery of his thirst for wealth. Philip Alfred Mickelson of Rancho Santa Fe, on the other hand, was merely deserted by his bootless troops as the cause in which he had conscripted them slipped away. As for the symbolic choking on needless greed, he served and swallowed that ruinous cocktail himself.

Apologies are less about atoning for past mistakes than setting the table for future comity, so it was noteworthy that the most fulsome atonement in the statement Mickelson released Tuesday was directed not at those he had insulted but toward those about whom he had told the truth.

There was no mention of the PGA Tour or its commissioner, Jay Monahan, whom he had accused of “coercive, strong-arm” tactics in comments to the writer Alan Shipnuck that were made public six days ago, a conversation in which Mickelson admitted to overlooking Saudi atrocities because the regime provided leverage to force concessions from the Tour that would further enrich him. But for LIV Golf Investments, the anodyne brand from which emissaries of the world’s foremost bonesaw enthusiast are attempting to launch a hostile takeover of men’s professional golf, there was buttery praise.

Hailing the Saudis as “visionaries” who “passionately love golf” represented a dizzying pivot given that last week Mickelson was revealed to have called them “scary mother——s,” murderers and human rights abusers. But perhaps he learned from the example of Jamal Khashoggi that lèse-majesté laws are decidedly unforgiving in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s circles.

Mickelson’s entire statement was self-serving tripe in which he brazenly postured as a Rosa Parks for the prosperous, standing against injustice and “taking the hits publicly” that such displays of courage entail. He would have golf fans believe that he is martyring himself for the betterment of the game, while in truth he has allied himself with people richly experienced in creating martyrs.

“This has always been about supporting the players and the game and I appreciate all the people who have given me the benefit of the doubt,” he wrote.

The timing of Mickelson’s post was not happenstance. At the very moment Monahan rose before his members in a Florida hotel ballroom to reiterate that any commitment to the Saudi-financed Super Golf League would see players banned, Mickelson hit ‘send’ on his praise for the Saudis he had “worked with” on that breakaway Tour. It was a further insult, masquerading as an apology.

Still, Mickelson’s explicit admission that he has worked to set up a rival circuit should see him face disciplinary action, perhaps even a lifetime ban from the Tour that enriched him, regardless of how much of that bullion remains.

If Monahan needed receipts before he could impose sanctions, Mickelson just cashiered himself.

That Mickelson seems to have sided with the Saudis suggests three possibilities.

  • That he genuinely believes their concept is best for golf’s future, a hypothesis that can be discounted since it’s based on the implausible notion that he could have altruistic motives.
  • That his grievances against the Tour have overrun his judgment, which wouldn’t shock those subjected to his incessant griping in recent years.
  • Or, that despite all the new bonuses and purse increases, the PGA Tour cannot possibly provide him what he needs as fast as he needs it.

Mickelson concluded by saying he would take time away, hinting at personal issues and perhaps warning of more to come. There can be no pleasure in seeing a man’s private anguish (and that of his family) play out in so public a fashion, but nor can those issues simply be draped as a veil over his simultaneous indulgence of brutality for personal gain.

Falls from grace in sport can be slow and grounded in unethical behavior, like Lance Armstrong’s. Or, like that of Tiger Woods, rapid and owing to private shortcomings. Mickelson’s sets a new standard for precipitous disgrace, brought about by his cozying up to a murderous government because he was denied permission to use media he doesn’t own to create content few would buy.

No doubt he imagines himself a pioneer—a “disrupter,” in the nomenclature of bullshitters—but Mickelson is setting out in search of new gold from a mine that is far from exhausted. What has been depleted is the forbearance of his peers for his preening self-regard, his mercenary selfishness, and his callous indifference to the abuses of his allies in Riyadh.

“Everyone is tired of Phil,” one exasperated player texted. “Just a general consensus.”

If Mickelson chooses to move on—or if he is ushered toward the door marked ‘Exit’ by Monahan—he should be mourned. He has been the second most sublime player of his generation, compiled a record that deserves to be spoken of among the greatest of all time, and engaged fans in a manner that drew comparisons to Arnold Palmer, no matter how disingenuous the performance.

Mourned, but not missed.

A few hours before Mickelson waded back into the fray, sixteen hungry men lined up at a nondescript course in Florida for a sudden-death playoff to earn one spot in this week’s Honda Classic. Fifteen of them left with nothing more than a dream of someday reaping the rewards that Mickelson deems insufficient. If his spot in the locker room is vacated, there will be no shortage of worthy takers. The game will survive his sad unraveling. We can only hope that he does too.

Published at Golfweek.com, February 23, 2022.

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