National Sports

OPINION: Golf has done so very much good - for Phil Mickelson and his pals

Phil Mickelson looked like a fugitive from his own face, as he cringed at questions inside his dirty new beard. Meanwhile, goons strong-armed the reporter who outed his gambling debts, and Greg Norman stood in the background orchestrating it all with a smile mirthless as Goldfinger’s. What a “fresh and fun” new thing this LIV Golf tour is. You may think it’s just plutomania backed by a despotic murderer and sold by duckers and hucksters, but that’s because you haven’t thought as hard as Mickelson has about how to make the world a better place with Saudi-blood-money golf purses.

You may have been tempted to shout at Mickelson and his fellow elopers to the Saudi tour, “Just say you want to be filthy rich! It’s so much more defensible than the tripe that you’re trotting out!” But you misunderstand Mickelson’s motives: He’s not out there to grasp at nine-figure checks, he’s there in an ambassadorial role for the greater good of the game and his fellow man. Graeme McDowell and Dustin Johnson too. If you have a problem with kicking bunker sand over the bloodstains left by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, you simply don’t understand what a profoundly beneficent influence Saudi golf can have around the globe.

“I don’t condone human rights violations at all,” Mickelson said, with a look on his face that suggested he was trying to choke down smuggled diamonds. “Nobody here does, throughout the world. . . . I’ve also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history.”

McDowell’s turn. “Speaking personally, I really feel that golf is a force of good in the world,” he said.

The obvious follow-up question is, exactly how has golf has been a historical force for good, if you please, especially in repressed countries? Reporter Alan Shipnuck might have pressed Mickelson on this topic after the first round at the inaugural LIV event at the Centurion Club outside London, except he was hustled away from the press area by a couple of “neckless security dudes” saying they were acting on orders “from their boss, whom they refused to name,” as Shipnuck wrote in a tweet.

When Shipnuck messaged LIV Commissioner Norman for an explanation, that platinum-coated mannequin replied, “Did not hear, thanks for letting me know,” only for camera footage to reveal Norman was actually right behind Shipnuck as it happened, looking as if he was about to murder him for the diamonds that Mickelson had already swallowed.

Since the golfers would not or could not answer any questions of substance before being cut off by emcee Ari Fleischer, it’s left it to the rest of us to catalogue the many ills that golf has cured all around the world and across history, and to spell out the “force for good” the LIV tour will bring to such needy locales as Pumpkin Ridge and Trump-Bedminster.


In order of importance, here are the ways in which golf has been a source of indispensable virtue from ocean to ocean:

No. 1: The irrigation of Scottsdale. Certainly, a most meaningful historical event. Think of what a desert the desert might have become had Jack Nicklaus not whacked so many hundred-year-old saguaro cacti to introduce elevation changes and rolling Scottish-style fairways to the Sonoran ecoregion so that mid-level executives could play annual corporate outings at places named Cochise and Geronimo.

No. 2: The motorized cart. Invention is surely a byword of golf, and thus the Club Car and the E-Z-Go must be entered into the book of historical contributions. Without these vehicles, children of private enclaves would be denied their early F-1 lessons, and aging arthritics would not be able to drive straight to their gated townhomes.

No. 3: The hospitality tent. Has there been a more important contribution to the alleviation of suffering than the corporate greenside villa as a haven for Cohiba smokers and sockless gin-soaked hedgies, seeking refuge from the relentless raff and torturing sun?

No. 4: Antique golf clubs. Without the commitment of golf to saving archaic and banal objects, the “niblick” and “mashie” would be truly endangered. The brassie, the spoon, the baffie and the cleek: All would be lost and consigned to the waters of time if not for the priceless collections once belonging to club champions with names like C. Stillborn Drunklord IV.

No. 5: Lingo. Ahhhh, the elegance of the golf lexicon and its jingling notes, alternately so poetic and clever. “You da man!” is second only to “Mashed Potatoes!” among timeless phrases of rhythm and grace. In the mouth of a golfer, long grass becomes “cabbage,” and every destination is prefaced by “Rancho.”

No. 6: Sansabelt pants. We can thank golf for giving other unfashionable people something to look down upon. The polyester beltless trouser coupled with ill-fitting polo shirt with writing on the pocket is truly a timeless uniform, and let’s not leave out the women’s section of the pro shop, so brightly pink, and filled with skorts.

No. 7: The beverage cart. There you are, stranded and parched, miles from the 19th Hole bar, when here come the refreshments in a lurchy wagon driven by a young woman with a surly-weary expression, offering a choice between canned vodka mules, pale ale, Jim Beam and High Noon Sun Sip, accompanied, as ever, by a sweating cheese sandwich. Next to world food programs, it’s hard to think of a more munificent humanitarian contribution.

No. 8: Traditions unlike any other. If private clubs from shore to continental shore have been able to fend off the encroachment of that dread factor, modernity, you can thank golf. Take the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, who refused to admit so much as a female toe on their premises through 2017, arguing that ladies would “endanger foursomes and speedy play.” It was Muirfield’s prideful boast that its male-only membership played so fast they left “enough time for a further round after lunch (even in mid winter).”

The golfer could go on and on, listing the ways the sport has uplifted global humanity. Why, who can forget golf’s role in integrating lily white Shoal Creek and Augusta National - in 1990. Or in ending Apartheid, once golfers quit taking exorbitant sums to play in segregationist Pretoria. “I’ll tell you what: That amount of money opens your eyes every morning,” Andy Bean said, at least honestly.

Which brings us to perhaps golf’s greatest, and most inarguably valuable global contribution.

No. 9: The excuse. As Mickelson, McDowell and the rest of their Saudi bootlicking company demonstrate, where would the soul of mankind be without golf’s influence on the creative search for self-exoneration for our bad decisions and worst shots?

“I switched from the Srixon Z-Star ball to the Bridgestone B-RXS, but I could tell in midflight it was a bad decision.”

“I really should have waited for the green to clear.”

“Did you feel that wind change?”

No doubt Mickelson and McDowell et al do feel a change in the wind. And you can bet it feels cold, despite all that warmhearted global do-gooding they say they are doing.

Sally Jenkins

Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for The Washington Post.