Phil Mickelson backlash continues as Callaway join sponsor exodus over Saudi Golf League blunder


Phil Mickelson backlash continues as more sponsors ditch golfer over Saudi Super Golf League comments - GETTY IMAGES

Phil Mickelson backlash continues as more sponsors ditch golfer over Saudi Super Golf League comments – GETTY IMAGES

First goes the reputation, then follows the recompense. If Phil Mickelson was in any doubt about the validity of the primary rule of endorsement, then it has been confirmed in emphatic and brutal fashion with a veritable exodus of billionaire sponsors. What a 10 days it has been for the six-time major champion.

He has gone from the darling of the American galleries to the game’s pariah. In a few quotes delivered to an unofficial biographer, Mickelson’s standing in the game has been demolished and, as the 51-year-old takes an open-ended break, it is difficult to see how he recovers his stature and his financial flow. Certainly, KPMG, Heineken and Workday expect Mickelson’s PR rehabilitation to be, at the best, difficult.

All have terminated their long-term contracts with the left-hander and that merry lot will add up to at least a £15 million hole per annum. Meanwhile, Callaway, the equipment maker with whom has enjoyed a near two-decade relationship, is taking a rain check, which is most stunning when one considers that Nike never dropped Tiger Woods, even during the tawdry heights of his sex scandal. Callaway issued its statement late on Friday and this must have felt like the knife twisting.

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“Callaway does not condone Phil Mickelson’s comments and we were very disappointed in his choice of words – they in no way reflect our values or what we stand for as a company,” the company said. “We recognize his desire to take some time away from the game and respect that decision. At this time, we have agreed to pause our partnership and will re-evaluate our ongoing relationship at a later date.”

The statement is curious if taken literally, because Mickelson’s comments were actually critical of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom pumping in hundreds of millions of dollars into creating the Super Golf League, a rival circuit to the PGA Tour. “They are scary mother——- to be involved with,” Mickelson told Alan Shipnuck, in the forthcoming “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colourful Superstar”, before bemoaning the country’s human rights record, citing the fact that “they execute people over there for being gay.

Surely, few can disagree with those sentiments, no matter how vast their Middle East portfolio? Rather, it was Mickelson’s unashamedly Machiavellian admission that he was prepared to overlook the atrocities to further his own ends that so many found appalling, including the respective CEOs.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates,” Mickelson said on his roundabout way to repeating his by now familiar tirade against the Tour’s media rights policy. Mickelson’s downfall has seemingly provoked little sympathy in the locker room. “He’s always been arrogant, thinking he is so smart and popular he can act however he likes,” one top player told Telegraph Sport. “This is being seen as his comeuppance. We all expect him to be back and be chocolate again. They love redemption in the States.”

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If there has been empathy expressed it has been concerned with the timing of Shipnuck’s release of remarks made last November. However, the author explained the timeline. “I wanted to see how it [the SGL saga] was going to play out,” Shipnuck told me last Monday. “Five days ago, a top player agent told me the Saudis had been waiting to make an official announcement until they had signed their 20th player…and that they had just reached 20 and a splashy kickoff event was going to be held the week of The Players Championship [in two weeks’ time]. With things at a boil, it felt like it was the right time to make know Mickelson’s true feelings.”

With so many supposed big-named targets – including Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau – having pledged their PGA Tour loyalty in the wake of the Mickelson outrage. It must be presumed that SGL announcement has been scrapped. However, the Saudis have too much money and too much pride to walk away. Alas, those happen to be two commodities which Mickelson finds in ever-decreasing supply.



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