KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY – Phil Mickelson claims the “obnoxious greed” of the PGA Tour and its ownership of media rights is why players are tempted by the prospects of rival tours, such as one backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, Golf Digest reported.
Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson are among 20 PGA Tour members who are playing in the Saudi International this week for exorbitant appearance money.
The tournament is now part of the Asian Tour, which received a $300 million influx from Greg Norman’s new LIV Golf Investments, which is funded primarily by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.
Mickelson, a 45-time winner on the PGA Tour, and DeChambeau have been the two most prominent players linked to talk of a “super league.” Players such as Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth have said they would not be interested.
In a news conference before the tournament, Mickelson said the competition was giving players leverage, and that the threat of a rival league had led the PGA Tour to create a $40 million Player Impact Program (which he says he won last year) and increases in prize money and FedEx Cup bonus money.
He later told Golf Digest the players not owning their media rights is what bothers him.
“If the tour wanted to end any threat, they could just hand back the media rights to the players,” Mickelson told Digest. “But they would rather throw $25 million here and $40 million there than give back the roughly $20 billion in digital assets they control. Or give up access to the $50-plus million they make every year on their own media channel.”
He did not say where he came up with the $20 billion figure.
The PGA Tour declined comment. The tour, like other major sports organizations, relies on media rights as a major source of revenue.
“The media rights are but a small fraction of everything else,” Mickelson said. “And it is the tour’s obnoxious greed that has really opened the door for opportunities elsewhere.”
Mickelson was irritated in 2018 when he staged a winner-take-all exhibition match with Tiger Woods in Las Vegas. That was the first of five matches, and Mickelson said he has had to pay $1 million to the tour for each one.
“For my own media rights,” Mickelson said. “That type of greed is, to me, beyond obnoxious.”
However, that arrangement has long been standard for unofficial events on television such as the old Skins Game or the Monday night matches involving Woods from 20 years ago.
Mickelson also mentioned to Golf Digest that someone wanted to use a seven-second clip from a shot he hit out of the pine straw to the 13th green at the 2010 Masters. He said the charge was $30,000 per second every time the clip was aired for a total cost of $3.5 million. Augusta National, not the PGA Tour, owns those media rights.
Norman this week announced two of the proposed 10 new events on the Asian Tour in Thailand and England, the latter held a week before the U.S. Open. He has not talked specifically about a super league, nor has he announced any players who are willing to join.
The Daily Mail, without citing sources or terms, reported DeChambeau was offered $135 million to join such a league.
“I’m not sure how this is going to play out,” said Mickelson, the reigning PGA champion who turns 52 in June. “My ultimate loyalty is to the game of golf and what it has given me. I am so appreciative of the life it has provided. ... I know I will be criticized. That’s not my concern. All that would do is dumb down one of the most intricate issues in sports.”