Here’s one you might have missed: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson got together to exchange rapid-fire banter the other day, and, as you might expect, the bon mots were flying at a pace so dizzying as to recall the witticisms exchanged across the Algonquin Round Table 100 years ago by Dorothy Parker and Gertrude Stein.
If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, don’t worry. Until a few weeks ago, I’d almost forgotten all about Woods and Mickelson.
Oh, I knew that Woods was one of the greatest golfers of all time, and that Mickelson is one of the most popular. And that Woods’ career had gone off the rails and that it had something to do with a cocktail waitress. And that Mickelson was notable for greed, whining, his good fortune in avoiding a prison term, and, most recently, a bizarre moment when he chased after his own errant putt, knocked it back toward the cup and then bragged about his shrewd manipulation of the rules. He even took shelter in the last refuge of a scoundrel: conditional contrition. He was sorry…if anyone was offended. Then came the apology tour, undoubtedly mandated by his agent and the corrupt sponsors who pay nearly all of his bloated salary. He was embarrassed. He was sorry. Not his finest hour.
So there they were, before teeing off at the Players Championship last week, announcing plans for a $10 million “winner-take-all” match that sounded awfully exciting, except that it wasn’t actually going to be a winner-take-all match. Tiger and Lefty don’t show up for a homeowners’ association meeting without cash up front.
Mickelson, you may recall, is darned near bereft. Back in 2013 — shortly after California job-creators like Lefty were hit with a tax hike (so unfair; they weren’t the ones who had created a fiscal crisis) — Mickelson said he might have to quit the tour because it just wasn’t worth it to him to travel from country club to country club. Oh, sure he had made $48 million in 2012 (according to Forbes), but what good was it if he had to pay $15 million or so in taxes?
Phil, being a nice guy and all — he happily signs autographs for fans and makes people happy with his array of daring shots — eventually relented. After all, orphans and, sadly, even some disabled leftists depended on him.
Which brings us back to that Tiger-Lefty banter, a tasty piece of dialog that had all the spontaneity of a pro wrestling match in Brainerd.
Mickelson: The excitement that’s been going on around here, it gets me thinking. Why don’t we just bypass the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head-to-head and just have kind of a high-stakes, winner-take-all match?”
Here I pause just to wonder if Lefty typically uses the word “ancillary” in daily conversation. Maybe he does, although I doubt it. I do know, however, that he likes high stakes, because, like nearly all athletes who are compulsive gamblers, he loses by the millions. Which I’ll get to soon, but back to the badinage…
Woods: I’m definitely not against that. We’ll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable.
I could go on, but you get the point.
This particular episode of the Mickelson drama may have been meant to overshadow the bilious aftertaste dfrom the U.S. Open, the scene of Mickelson’s most recent disgrace.
The video of Mickelson gaming the system — or so he claimed — on the 13th hole at Shinnecock Hills created only a mild controversy at first. He was assessed a two-stroke penalty, took a 10 on the hole and he was on his way to a 48th-place finish. Surprising but not entirely shocking for the 48-year-old version of Mickelson. After all, for years now — since the last of his five majors wins, the British Open in 2013 — Lefty has been a brand far more than a golfer. In 2017, according to Forbes, he made about $40 million in endorsements and $3.5 million playing golf.
But, like that damned putt that just wouldn’t stop rolling, Mickelson added momentum to the incident by offering an implausible explanation — and one that, to boot, appeared to be just a bit self-aggrandizing.
“I’ve thought about doing the same thing many times in my career,” he said. “I just did it this time. It was something I did to take advantage of the rules.”
There was a lot wrong with that explanation/boast. First, he wasn’t taking advantage of the rules — he was breaking them. Second, why stir up a controversy when he was already consigned to the bottom of the leaderboard? And, finally, if he was such a master of the rules, didn’t he know that he could just as well have been disqualified? (As it was, he took a two-stroke penalty, in theory a better option than allowing the ball to roll all the way into the rough.) Because, for no apparent reason, the USGA has two rules that cover Mickelson’s sin. The two-stroke penalty was for striking a moving ball. But had the officials ruled that he had stopped or deflected a moving ball, he would have been disqualified and sent home to count his money. Lots and lots of money.
It took awhile for the media to pounce on the story. And that’s hardly a surprise. Sports writers — we’re talking about beat guys here — scramble for access to the big names with a lot more enthusiasm than they scramble for the big stories. The result is that they pump out all manner of worshipful stories about the superstars, for fear of losing favor to other journalists. It’s a jungle out there, and getting worse by the day.
You might think that when journalists make it to the top, they can stop being sycophants, but apparently you can never relax. There’s always an opening on the high school beat, after all, and if the Mickelsons start to shun you, the country club life could come to an abrupt end. Even the New York Times story — certainly one of the hardest-hitting to emerge from the U.S. Open — made reference to Mickelson’s “heretofore sterling reputation.”
Sterling reputation? I’ve already tipped my hand on this issue, but it should be said that whether we’re talking about the clubhouse or the Big House, Lefty is one lucky dude.
Back in 2014, Mickelson made a killing in the stock market based on insider-trading tips. Mickelson’s lawyer declared that he was a mere “innocent bystander,” but clearly the Securities and Exchange Commission disagreed. And Mickelson as much as admitted he was guilty as hell, because when the SEC send Lefty a bill for the million bucks he gained from the scam, he paid in full.
There were two other malefactors involved in the scam, and both went to prison for doing exactly what Mickelson did. But Mickelson got off on the flimsiest of technicalities. It’s a fascinating, if somewhat complex, story; and if you have the stomach for it, you can read this Golf Digest piece by CNN and New Yorker legal expert Jeffrey Toobin.
Then there’s this Fortune.com piece.
Both stories, by the way, detail Lefty’s outsized gambling debts and how they figure in his use of inside information. Another reason we can all identify with Mickelson.
But the insider trading and the purse money are really just chump change for Mickelson. The real money comes from shilling for some of the worst corporations in the world.
First, of course, there’s the nation’s top polluter, ExxonMobil. Then there’s Barclays, the financial goliath that just recently agreed to pay a $2 billion fine by the justice department for massive fraud that led to widespread mortgage defaults and, of course, the 2008 financial crisis. If you think it can’t get any worse, consider the fact that Mickelson is the poster boy for Big Pharma’s price gouging.
In fact, the most gouged prices of all are attached to two obscenely profitable drugs for treating psoriatic arthritis, a condition that can cause enormous pain, joint damage, fatigue, depression and, thanks to the greed of Big Pharma, bankruptcy.
And, yes, Lefty has a piece of the action. There are two widely prescribed drugs for psoriatic arthritis, and Mickelson personally endorses one of them. That would be Enbrel, which produced around $7 billion in revenues last year. The other big seller for treating PA is Humira, which took in something like $18 billion and is without question the most profitable drug in the world, unless you count cocaine.
These drugs can save lives, but only if you have elite health insurance or a really terrific fortune. Once Obamacare is essentially destroyed, and insurance companies can eliminate coverage of preexisting conditions, the out-of-pocket tab for these meds will most likely exceed $60,000 per year. Oh, there could be a price war, but not the good kind. Because by sheer coincidence, the makers of these drugs tend to increase prices by the same amount each year.
Is this Mickelson’s fault? Of course not. And I suppose it sounds foolish — certainly radical — to suggest that one of the most popular golfers ever should have a social conscience, or at least not commit felonies.
I apologize if anyone is offended.
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