With Phil Mickelson accused of “moral bankruptcy”, the backlash against the left-hander’s stunning Saudi Arabia comments is well under way. And even some of his fellow top players are breaking the locker room’s traditional omertà with Justin Thomas accusing his countryman of being “egotistical”.
The second round of the Genesis Invitational was in process here and despite this Riviera Country Club field boasting every member of the world’s top 10 and featuring a $12 million prize fund, the most lucrative ever for a regular PGA Tour event, the brunt of the chatter concerned Mickelson’s remarks.
Not only were many his peers shocked over his admission that the Saudis are “scary mother——- to be involved with” and that he is able to ignore the Kingdom’s “horrible human rights record” to gain “leverage” over the PGA Tour, but also at his claim that he recruited three other “top players” to pay for lawyers to draw up the operating agreement for the breakaway circuit.
A few weeks after accusing the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed” for controlling the media rights of players, Mickelson was quoted on the firepitcollective.com website as calling the tour “a dictatorship”.
“If the tour doesn’t do the right thing, there is a high likelihood it’s [the Saudi’s Super Golf League] going to happen,” Mickelson added, threatening that there are 20 players ready to risk a lifetime ban from the PGA Tour to sign up with the SGL.
There is a discernible sense here that Mickelson has crossed the line. On the Golf Channel, analyst Eamon Lynch slammed Mickelson for “being destitute of dignity” and said “I cannot think of a more morally bankrupt statement that any public figure could make”. And world No 8 Thomas also weighed in.
“It seems a pretty egotistical statement,” he said. “He’s done a lot of great things for the PGA Tour. It’s a big reason it is where it is. But, you know, I’ve heard way too much talk about a lot of players that are so ‘done’ with everything [on the PGA Tour]. But they keep hanging around – so clearly they’re not too done.”
Even some of Mickelson’s allies are critical of his stance. Joel Dahmen regularly plays practise rounds with the six-time major winner, but clearly does not want anyone to believe that he holds the same anti-Tour views.
“Phil doesn’t speak for us and he doesn’t speak for me,” Dahmen said. “This game has given him so much and the Tour has given him so much and he’s fighting back now at 51 years old. It kind of seems like a weird spot.
Maybe the Tour has been screwing us the whole time. But it seems to me I’m doing just fine.”
Indeed, with a record $2.1 million (£1.54 million) first prize on offer here, it is perhaps not the ideal time to be scolding the PGA Tour for its player generosity.
Rory McIlroy reached the halfway point on three under after a one-under 70, but found himself a gaping 13 strokes behind Chilean pacesetter Joaquin Niemann, whose second successive 63 handed him a two-shot advantage over Cameron Young, the American firing a course-record 62.
In third, a further three shots behind on 11 under comes Thomas, after a 64, with Scotland’s Russell Knox the top Briton in a tie for seventh on seven under, following a 67.