Twitter has been bountiful terrain for conspiracy theories since Jack Dorsey first pecked his keyboard, a place where outlandish accusations are presented without evidence by the mendacious and hungrily swallowed by the credulous because they offer comfort not provided by reality.
Phil Mickelson is now eagerly sowing in that verdant field, trading a reputation forged by a green jacket for one more befitting a tin foil hat.
Last week, he singled out the CEO of the USGA, Mike Whan, for what he claimed was a plot to deny his LIV Golf colleague, Talor Gooch, an automatic spot in the U.S. Open. “Dick move,” tweeted the Pelé of prickish antics.
As in politics, conspiracies must metastasize to include any entity that doesn’t accommodate the interests of the cult. So Mickelson is now training his fire on the PGA of America, which he accused of “colluding” with the PGA Tour to keep LIV players out of next week’s PGA Championship. His theory — that the PGA of America bypassed Greg Norman’s also-rans in favor of Jay Monahan’s lower-ranked also-rans — is baseless since the PGA Championship doesn’t strictly rely on rankings to award places in its field. But the PGA of America’s criteria is sloppily constructed and lacking in clarity, and that makes it catnip for conspiracy theorists, or a charlatan eager to distract from his own culpability.
In the antitrust suit he filed with 10 other LIV players last summer, Mickelson said that he was suspended by the PGA Tour on March 22 for, among other things, recruiting for LIV Golf during Tour events. That was unsurprising: players were well aware of how Mickelson would use rounds to cajole his luckless playing partners about the abundant riches awaiting just over the Riyadh rainbow. While Greg Norman was the man out front, Mickelson sold the same snake oil in the shadows. He lent the enterprise credibility. If a six-time major winner was on board, they should be too.
Players were told they could continue to play PGA Tour events, that they could cherry-pick European starts, that they would get the world ranking points necessary for most of them to qualify for majors, and that they would be hailed as visionaries growing a stale sport. All that and a huge check to boot.
But only the cash was within the gift of Norman and Mickelson. It’s increasingly obvious that none of those other promises will be delivered upon imminently, hence the urgency to deflect.
LIV Golf has no audience traction, particularly in the only region that can confer commercial viability, the U.S. One possible explanation is that LIV is an execrable product, with odious financing, a nefarious objective, inept leadership, and unlikable competitors playing for ludicrously named teams on cow pasture courses. Or, if you believe Mickelson, LIV’s issues owe more to numerous entities and individuals conspiring to smother a surefire concept.
In his eagerness to manufacture an alternative reality in which LIV players have been mistreated by others rather than misled by him, Mickelson is comically alleging a conspiracy among organizations that haven’t fired a shot — in defense either of the PGA Tour or the reputation of the sport they claim to uphold — since this war began. The PGA of America, like the USGA and R&A, has not been discriminatory toward LIV golfers who earned the right to play in its major, and the leaders of all three organizations (Messrs. Whan, Waugh and Slumbers) have been sideline sitters. Mickelson’s issue isn’t that they have conspired against LIV players, but rather that they haven’t bent the rules to insulate those players from the consequences of a decision Mickelson encouraged them to make.
It’s not coincidental that the frequency of Mickelson’s Machiavellian accusations has increased. The April 4 ruling by a sports arbitration panel in the United Kingdom ensured LIV players don’t have unfettered access to the European tour’s events, mirroring a ruling by a federal court in Northern California on PGA Tour access. That strands LIV golfers — at least the few who still aspire to competitive relevance — on an island with limited ability to accumulate the world ranking points that largely determine access to majors for those who aren’t past champions. That grim reality should by now be apparent to the players, though the risk of such was probably always known to the self-dealing agents who directed them into a career cul-de-sac and the grifters who sold them a bill of goods.
“I don’t need OWGR points nor do I care about them for myself,” Mickelson tweeted at Colt Knost last week. “I’m in 3 majors for the next 13+ years and all four majors through 2025.” That’s a life raft not shared by many of those he persuaded to jump ship with him.
His increasingly desperate reliance on conspiracy theories to explain their predicament is nothing more than shameless deflecting of responsibility masquerading as advocacy for his pals.