Tour Confidential: Mickelson’s media rights, and riding the Spieth rollercoaster

This week’s roundtable includes thoughts on Phil Mickelson’s remarks against the PGA Tour, Jordan Spieth’s weekend and alternate tee boxes.

The post Tour Confidential: Mickelson’s media rights, and riding the Spieth rollercoaster appeared first on Golf.

This week’s roundtable includes thoughts on Phil Mickelson’s remarks against the PGA Tour, Jordan Spieth’s weekend and alternate tee boxes.

The post Tour Confidential: Mickelson’s media rights, and riding the Spieth rollercoaster appeared first on Golf.

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we break down some pointed comments from Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth’s wild weekend and LIV Golf’s prospects.

1. This week, the Saudi International, sponsored by the group that is expected to back a proposed new Tour, was played, and let’s begin with the off-the-course news. On the eve of the Saudi International, Phil Mickelson, in a scathing interview with Golf Digest’s John Huggan, ripped the PGA Tour’s media rights policy, saying the Tour’s “greed” is “beyond obnoxious.” Mickelson said: “It’s not public knowledge, all that goes on. But the players don’t have access to their own media. If the Tour wanted to end any threat [from rival leagues], they could just hand back the media rights to the players. But they would rather throw $25 million here and $40 million there than give back the roughly $20 billion in digital assets they control … There are many issues, but that is one of the biggest.” Fair point from Mickelson? And do you suppose he speaks for many of the top players?

Josh Sens, senior writer: It wasn’t clear to me where Mickelson was getting the $20 billion figure from. But that aside, as someone who freelanced for more than 25 years, I would simply say, Welcome to life as an independent contractor. You don’t like the terms. Don’t sign the contract. (I would also say, I don’t know any other freelance gigs that come with such a sweet retirement package). I’m sure the media rights issue frustrates other top players, too. It’s hard to feel too sorry for any of them.

Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): I think Sens presents some very fair points! The term independent contractor cuts both ways, both in players’ favor when they’d like to skip an event and not in their favor when they don’t have a lot of control over the true value of their play. Phil’s surprising victory at the PGA has certainly proven to be monetarily valuable to him — and not just from the purse — so him doubling down now makes sense. Just feels a bit greedy himself. 

James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): Rights are generated by players, but the value of those rights is nothing without an apparatus advancing their brands, personalities and financial interests (as Phil seems to miss). If the Tour ‘handed back the rights’ to players, the onus would then fall upon those same players to negotiate the same media deal … and then they’d subsequently have to fund near-everything else that comes with it (social media, marketing, video, licensing, etc.) What Phil should have said is that the Tour needs to be more flexible with its constituents about the terms of its deals, and that it needs to do more work to meet players where they are. He missed the mark with his comments, and even if he (and many others) are very right in some parts of their criticism, ‘obnoxious greed’ wasn’t quite the right tune.

Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): It’s a fair point from Phil — why wouldn’t he seek more money for his brand? But James sums it quite well. (And you should read his weekly media piece, Hot Mic!) I would wonder about the fallout with the current Tour-wide deal when every player is negotiating their own and keeping the return. (Though, the content available for our site to report on would explode.) But, if what Phil is saying is true, there should be more flexibility as media evolves. If a player is operating a YouTube channel — i.e., Bryson — they should reap the rewards.   

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Phil has all the best words. But a fact-checker is needed here. 

brooks koepka stands with phil mickelson

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2. More generally, what do you read into the pointedness of Mickelson’s remarks?

Sens: I don’t think it’s a secret that the Tour is out to squeeze every potential dollar out of its players and its products. But, as Mickelson showed before with his whining-from-the-yacht complaints about taxes some years ago, he has a special knack for making his points in a uniquely tone-deaf way. That the comments came as he was collecting a paycheck in Saudi Arabia only sharpened the self-parody. I don’t believe he was there to attend a Bernie Sanders-led forum on wealth redistribution. 

Zak: It feels like Phil is stepping up to the podium that so many other players seem afraid to do. In the all-talk battle between rumored startup leagues and the PGA Tour, no other players have actually derided the Tour. They have offered extremely soft arguments for changes. Phil has had enough of that, it seems. My popcorn is popping. 

Colgan: Sure seemed to me like the kinda fight you picked with your teenage girlfriend so you had a reason to break up with her the next week. No?

Bamberger: Phil wanted to blow-up the PGA of America’s strangle-hold on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and he did. Now it’s player-driven. He wants to blow-up the balance-of-power on the PGA Tour away from its worker-bees in favor of its stars. He might be successful again. But he is of course long past his peak as a player. That doesn’t mean he can’t make more money in his 50s and 60s than he did in his 30s and 40. 

Piastowski: I’ll say this: It’s better than the parade of comments of “I’m growing the game” and “I’m not a politician.” If he’s going to join the new league, he just laid out why in black and white — or green? — terms. 

3. Also ahead of the Saudi tournament, LIV Golf Investments announced an expanded financial partnership with the Asian Tour, creating an 11-event “International Series” as part of the agreement. There was still no word on a rumored new rival tour, but various reports surfaced about huge sums that have been offered to various players, and the Daily Mail reported that LIV Golf Investments is operating with a budget in excess of $1 billion. From what you’ve seen and heard in the last week, how, if at all, has your sense changed of how LIV Golf might alter the landscape of pro golf?

Zak: I don’t know if this is proper, but LIV Golf feels more real in the wake of Mickelson’s comments, even if he barely mentioned the idea of it and focused more on the PGA Tour itself. Mickelson is a role model for a lot of these guys, at some level. He’s a friend of a lot of them. And he’s smart. Too smart? Yes, at times. But if he can create some sort of uprise against aspects of the PGA Tour, he is sure to have some followers.

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Sens: That’s an interesting take. Seems plausible to me. In the end, with such lavish sums being dangled, I don’t see how any of this goes away. I suspect we’re in for more and more weeks like this past one, not fewer.

Colgan: I totally agree, Zak. Something crystallized this week for LIV Golf’s vision. And if the reported sums they’re using to win over pros are real? Well, it won’t matter what the PGA Tour changes — LIV Golf is here to stay for at least the immediate future.

Bamberger: This Saudi-backed league needs two things to be successful. Money and golfers the public wants to watch, in person and on TV. Money it has. Players can be bought. It won’t get Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas and those under Tiger’s spell, but there are dozens of players in their 30s and 40s who will be happy to play for guaranteed money. Lee Westwood signed an NDA. He’s perfect for what that league is looking for. Or he’s a good start, anyway.

Piastowski: That it’s going to put some very, very serious questions in front of guys. Sign with a controversially backed group and potentially be booted from majors, the PGA Tour and the Ryder Cup? Or be completely set for life to play a handful of golf tournaments a year, with your finish in the event completely irrelevant? I don’t think I grasped the life-altering money in play before. 

4. Back on the PGA Tour, Tom Hoge birdied three of the last five holes to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am by two. Coming up just short was Jordan Spieth, whose solo-runner-up finish was his first top 10 on the PGA Tour since the 2021 Open Championship. Time to hop back on the Spieth train?

Sens: He’s fresh off another swing change. That’s tough. But the pieces sure appeared to be holding together this weekend. I’m aboard. Especially at certain venues. Silly not to have him in your pool anytime he plays at Pebble. Or Augusta. I think you can bank on him being in the mix at the Old Course this summer, too.

Zak: From now until he quits, Spieth will be a ball-striker who needs to get hot with the putter. When it happens, he’ll contend! But he’s still a bit too close to that last place finish in the Bahamas and a pretty poor showing in Hawaii for me to think he’s made some gigantic leap.

Colgan: Hard to hop on the Spieth train when you never hopped off it! Faith — in the parlance of my beloved Syracuse football coach Dino Babers — is belief without evidence. I have a ton of faith in Spieth right now. I’m not sure I have a ton of evidence to support that belief. But hey! This week was a start.

Bamberger: I was never off it. 

Piastowski: As long as the train doesn’t fall off a 70-foot cliff, I’m aboard. His Saturday 63 was real, real good. 

5. In one of the wilder shots you’ll ever see, Jordan Spieth’s drive on Pebble’s par-4 8th hole in the third round came to rest just inches from a cliff edge, setting up an approach that required every ounce of Spieth’s sure-footedness. (Spieth survived the shot, missed the green, but still saved par.) Can you think of a more dangerous/angst-inducing shot that you’ve witnessed from a Tour pro?

Sens: Sergio has had a couple. That time he climbed the tree to hit a shot at Bay Hill. That time he hit around a tree at Medinah. But John Daly hitting a ball that teed up in David Feherty’s mouth has to be the diciest one I’ve seen.

Zak: Patrick Reed’s greenside pitch Saturday at Torrey gave me a lot of angst last year. But in all seriousness, nothing feels as dangerous as what Spieth pulled off. Jim Furyk made me nervous with his heels hanging over the hazard on Sawgrass’ 18th a couple years ago.

Colgan: Like, perhaps the time Jordan Spieth nearly ran off a cliff and into Lake Michigan at the Ryder Cup like, three months ago?

Bamberger: He was a slip away from death. The ground was downhill, toward the cliff. Even great athletes can lose their balance. Vertigo is a real thing. It was reckless. No, can’t think of anything like it.

Piastowski: Nope, that was it. Spieth wins. Craziest shot I can remember. Runner-up, Spieth at the Ryder Cup. Something about cliffs and that dude. 

6. The little-employed (but fun!) alternate tee on Pebble Beach’s 10th hole was put into play on Sunday. Put on your design cap and suggest another alternate tee you’d like to see added to a PGA Tour/major venue.

Sens: Have them hit from the grandstands on the 16th at the Waste Management Open. What could possibly go wrong?

Zak: I’m all in favor of Boss Level tee boxes. Let’s have the 1st tee at Riviera moved back even further and put that sucker on top of the clubhouse. Bombs away. 

Colgan: Put a tee box on the other island on the 17th at Sawgrass. Then make ‘em row a boat from tee-to-green. Would be AWFUL for pace of play, but terrific content.

Bamberger: On 18 on Sunday at Augusta National: Play it as a drivable par-4, like 310, up the hill. Make a 2, win from the house. Too many winners come from the day’s last twosome anyhow. It would be a nod to 18 on the Old Course, Jones’s ANGC inspiration in the first place. Maybe Friday and Sunday up, Thursday and Saturday back. Tell the players ahead of time of the plan in year one. They’ll know forever more. Chances of this happening? Zero point zero.

Piastowski: Have any final-round leader pick their tee boxes and pins among five or so choices. Big driver? Fourteen drivable par-4s! Good putter? Put the pins in diabolical spots knowing that you can make ’em from anywhere. I will say Michael’s idea of 18 at Augusta as a drivable par-4 would be fantastic.

The post Tour Confidential: Mickelson’s media rights, and riding the Spieth rollercoaster appeared first on Golf.