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Mickelson Bogeys With Saudi Cash Grab

When I heard that golfer Phil Mickelson was taking a hefty appearance fee to play in a tournament next month in Saudi Arabia, the phrase, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul,” came to mind.

That turn of phrase appears twice in the New Testament, in the Gospels of both Matthew and Mark. Now, I’m no Biblical scholar, but when a passage shows up twice in separate books, that probably means something.

Jesus certainly wasn’t thinking of Mickelson directly in his talk with his disciples, or even the game of golf, which was thousands of years from being created.

But the overall concept of social responsibility among those who have much is universal, even off the links.

Mickelson is taking heat for accepting what is believed to be a seven-figure appearance fee to play in the Saudi International tournament played starting January 30 at a course in a new development.

The criticism comes as the kingdom is under near universal general condemnation for its human rights record. According to Amnesty International, over 100 people were executed in Saudi Arabia last year for political dissent.

The most notable of those presumed executions came in October of 2018, when Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was reportedly lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. There, he was killed and his body dismembered.

A number of international intelligence organizations concluded that the killing came on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Over the weekend, five people were sentenced to death following a trial that lasted for over a year and was conducted in secret. The crown prince was not prosecuted.  

To be fair, Mickelson is not the only top golfer to draw condemnation for playing in this tournament. Dustin Johnson, who won the inaugural tournament last year, Brooks Koepka, the world’s top ranked player and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia are all slated to play in the Saudi International.

But it’s Mickelson, who has, by far, the highest profile of the golfers planning to play next month. He’s also been the most unrepentant about the criticism, quoting comedian Kevin Hart in a tweet, quote “You do you booboo, cuz Imma do me unquote.

While one should usually not get into the business of how someone else earns or spends their money, so long as that business doesn’t involve hurting someone or illegality, it’s worth noting that Mickelson was second last year in earnings among golfers worldwide.

Mickelson reportedly pocketed more than $40 million last year, with more than $35 million of that coming from endorsements.

Oddly enough, Mickelson placed behind only Tiger Woods, who has turned down the invite to play in Saudi Arabia twice, reportedly giving up more than $3 million in appearance fees each time.

Also, remember a few months ago when the NBA and LeBron James were correctly chided by the political right for seeming to side with China in its dispute with Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey over his comments supporting freedom for Hong Kong dissidents?

By contrast, hardly a word has been spoken by conservatives about Mickelson’s unrepentant cash grab, which apparently is par for the course for the right folks.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening, season’s greetings and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.