Genesis Invitational

Riviera Country Club


Phil knows better

A golfer who professes to understand the big picture conveniently overlooks it when it comes to playing in Saudi Arabia
December 04, 2019

Phil Mickelson is really smart, just ask him. As he told Golf Digest’s Guy Yocom back in 1991: "I don’t make a big deal about it, but yeah I’ve been tested [IQ]. It’s just over 200 . . . Just before my freshman year, some guys from Arizona State came to see me and they told me I could go straight to med school. They wanted me to be Doogie Howser. I told them thanks, but no.”

Golf fans would agree he made the right decision. As ethical backup, we might say Phil’s choice was utilitarian. By carving 6-irons through trees off pine straw and hitting flop shots for no reason, he’s brought more happiness to a greater number of people than he ever would’ve performing calf implants at some sleepy private practice in Scottsdale, assuming he would’ve been a plastic surgeon and that his specialty. Although with those hands, you’d certainly trust him around the face, too.

Phil’s so smart, there’s no doubt he knows the definition of chiasmus. You know, “a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or modified form.” Phil being Phil is the chiasmic distilled essence of his being. Whether it’s putting two drivers in the bag or none, wheeling through a Krispy Kreme drive-thru in a green jacket, or smacking down Jake Owen on the dance floor with a wad of cash, the world recognizes “Phil being Phil” when we see it. And so does Phil. He wielded the technique Monday on Twitter in response to criticism for entering the Saudi International amid the human rights turmoil going on in that nation. “You do you booboo cuz ima do me” Mickelson replied to Guardian golf writer Ewan Murray.

Now, there are other prominent American golfers likely banking large appearance fees for participating in the second edition of the Saudi European Tour event—like Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Tony Finau, and Brooks Koepka—but the heat is on Phil because presumably he should know better. A worldly man on the cusp of 50, knowledgeable on subjects as wide ranging as wine, dinosaurs and subcutaneous fat (and really almost any topic you care to bring up, many golfers say), should know that the staging of a popular western sport in a country whose values are so antithetical to our own comes with certain dilemmas that cannot be quickly dismissed. See the uproar between China and the NBA that’s now lasted over a month. Just last year Saudi Arabia directed the assassination of a dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and so hosting a professional golf tournament is a stunt to rehabilitate its global image that the New York Times calls “Sportswashing”. Phil has to be aware of all this.

Out of something like fellowship, Tiger Woods defended Mickelson by saying of the controversy, “the game of golf can actually help heal a lot of that.” Whether the tournament organizers see the event as a vehicle to promote social change, or are in fact politically and financially tied to the current regime of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, well, let’s not hold our breath on it proving to be the former. The question for the moment is, what’s Phil’s deeper thinking behind this seemingly flippant remark? You do you booboo cuz ima do me.

I don’t know if Phil took any philosophy classes at ASU, but I bet he could offer a better-than-most definition of hedonism. Basically, it’s a philosophy of living where we maximize pleasure now based on the simple reason it might not be there tomorrow. Pursue money, fame and relationships while you can. Don’t worry, be happy. Enjoy a carefree, cozy private flight to spend a week at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City. And while there, kicking it poolside, take a moment to both flaunt and view the beauty of the naked lower human leg.

Phil knows what nihilism is. After nearly three decades on tour and $95 million in prize money and inestimable miles traveled, perhaps he’s arrived to the exhausted viewpoint that nothing has meaning. Morality is just a human construction, kind of like the green speeds at Shinnecock Hills that he protested with flair and detachment at the 2018 U.S. Open. But Phil’s too cheerful a guy to believe in that.

A lot of people think narcissism is just a personality disorder, but someone as smart as Phil would know it’s a philosophy, too. Life is short. Why not pursue gratification from an idealized image of own’s self? To go to Saudi Arabia and be cheered by a gallery of people whom have never cheered for you before—why let the thorny issue of tacitly supporting an authoritarian regime that denies rights to women and other ethnicities supersede that? In golf terms, narcissism is kind of like gripping down two inches on hedonism. Of course, the Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation has done so much for others over the years, there’s just no way such a self-centered belief system is what’s drawn this happy couple together.

We’re all eagerly awaiting Phil to go deeper on his decision to play in Saudi Arabia. As a leader of American golf and future Ryder Cup captain, it’s his obligation as a public figure not to remain selectively oblivious. In honor of his favorite device, I’ll leave him with some famous chiasmi of people who stood for their beliefs.

When boxer Muhammad Ali refused to enlist for the Vietnam War in 1967 based on his beliefs as a Muslim and was then stripped of his title and arrested, that was Ali being Ali.

When President Jimmy Carter led the boycott of 62 nations from the 1980 Olympic Games in response to the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan, that was Carter being Carter.

When NFL safety Pat Tillman turned down a $3.6 million contract to join the Army in May 2002 and then was killed in combat, that was Tillman being Tillman.

What does Phil want the legacy of “Phil Being Phil” to be?