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Phil Mickelson sees value in the Saudi-backed Super Golf League, even while acknowledging the country’s negative record on human rights.
The veteran golfer discussed the situation with biographer Alan Shipnuck, via Fire Pit Collective:
“They’re scary motherf–kers to get involved with. We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”
The SGL is funded by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which is run by the Saudi government. The U.S. State Department has criticized the country for “significant human rights issues” that include unlawful killings and torture.
Even Mickelson admitted the league is an example of “sportswashing,” using propaganda to distract from human rights abuses and political problems.
These issues are significant, but the golfer believes it could create an opportunity to cut into the PGA Tour and help in negotiations.
“The Tour likes to pretend it’s a democracy, but it’s really a dictatorship,” Mickelson said. “They divide and conquer. The concerns of the top players are very different from the guys who are lower down on the money list, but there’s a lot more of them. They use the top guys to make their own situation better, but the top guys don’t have a say.”
The 51-year-old has long been a “top guy” in the sport with almost $95 million in career earnings. He still has a long list of issues with the PGA Tour, including payouts and media rights, the latter preventing potential income from NFTs.
It seems Mickelson is not alone, with Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Adam Scott among those reportedly mulling offers from the SGL, per Mark Schlabach of ESPN. Even the threat of top players leaving could create some change in the PGA Tour.
The governing body has already increased tournament purses while adding $50 million through the Player Impact Program, given to players who engage with fans.
Mickelson hopes PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan will continue to make concessions thanks to the SGL’s presence.