It’s a question so ancient that we find it in the Gospel of Mark: “What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Or, put another way, how much is too much? Or, is there such a thing as too much money?
The second- and third-leading money-winners in PGA Tour history are Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. Mickelson has made $99.5 million, Johnson $73.3M. This doesn’t count endorsements and suchlike, which in golf can be massive. These are not – or at least they shouldn’t be – men who need to pinch pennies. Both have pledged new allegiance to LIV Golf, which is the PGA Tour on gold-plated steroids.
Prize money on the LIV loop is $4M for the winner. The Masters champ gets $2.7M, plus a sport coat that can be worn only on the premises of Augusta National. An LIV event lasts 54 holes – hence “LIV,” which is 54 in Roman numerals. There’s also a concurrent “team event,” which intrigues me not one whit.
The part about LIV that’s majorly different is that golfers get paid to show up. The Golf Channel reported Mickelson is receiving $200M to show up. That’s double his career PGA earnings. That’s money that would tempt a saint. Johnson, reports the Telegraph, is getting $125M for appearing – not quite twice his PGA winnings, but not far off.
On Thursday, the PGA banned 17 players for entering LIV’s London event. (Another difference: LIV has only eight tournaments.) Mickelson and Johnson were among them. So was Ian Poulter, who’s 52nd on the PGA list of career earners at $24.2M. He’s reported to be drawing $30M in show-up money from LIV.
Poulter expressed outrage over his suspension. “There’s so much more to (LIV) than the money,” Poulter harrumphed, though there seems nothing more to LIV than the money. That said, it’s a ton of money.
Poulter was asked in London if he’d play in a golf tournament staged by Vladimir Putin. “That’s speculation,” he said. Which wasn’t quite a “no,” was it?
What makes LIV more than an affront to the snooty PGA is that the principal backer of LIV is the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which essentially is the Saudi treasury. As Mickelson conceded in his infamous interview with Alan Shipnuck, Saudi Arabia has “a horrible record on human rights. They execute people for being gay over there.”
(FYI: Shipnuck reported via Twitter he was ejected from Mickelson’s press conference after Thursday’s round.)
U.S. intelligence believes Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salam ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi consulate and never seen again. CCTV footage of him entering the consulate is as chilling as anything that has ever appeared on the internet.
And yet: CNN reported Friday that the U.S. government is “prepared to move on with a ‘reset’ of the relationship” with Saudi Arabia, deeming it “a dramatic about-face for President Joe Biden,” who last year labeled Saudi Arabia “a pariah.” On its website, the U.S. State Department proclaims: “The United States and Saudi Arabia enjoy a strong economic relationship. … Saudi Arabia is the third-leading source of imported oil for the United States.”
Also Friday: AAA listed the average price of a gallon of gas at $4.98.
Even after Khashoggi’s murder, the U.S. didn’t stop doing business with Saudi Arabia. Should golfers be held to a higher standard than the nation that considers itself the land of the free? The same Public Investment Fund is the majority owner of Newcastle United of the Premier League. Is it OK to fund a soccer team but not a golf tour? (Note: The Saudi interest in athletic endeavors is known as “sportswashing.”)
I’m not trying to be cute. I’m asking because I really don’t know. I’d love to believe I’d turn down any amount of money if I considered it dirty. Full disclosure, though: Nobody has offered to throw $200M my way. It’s easy to rip a guy like Mickelson for enriching himself to the point of gluttony, but who among us is without sin?
That’s the thing about temptations. They wouldn’t exist if they weren’t tempting.