I debated between a Lethal Weapon 2 “Diplomatic immunity” joke and a “Maybe we should stop bringing the kids around grandpa” barb to start this story about Gary Player wearing a Saudi Golf League logo during the ceremonial opening tee shots at the Masters and then his telling a reporter that Phil Mickelson is “being crucified” for his nonchalant comments regarding the Saudis, and I ultimately opted for Lethal Weapon 2.
“Gary Player did his best Arjen Rudd impression at the Masters on Thursday, and threw it back to a time when South Africans were movie villains” is an exquisitely specific reference, and I’m as proud of it as Player should be ashamed of the words he said to a reporter after hitting a ceremonial tee shot.
He shouldn’t have been so beaming to wear that stupid-ass quarter zip, either, but he shared the tee with noted Donald Trump supporter Jack Nicklaus so I’m not going to act like golf isn’t a safe space for old white guys. If Player banging the anti-cancel culture drum for Mickelson isn’t an indication of that, I don’t know what is.
Here’s what the three-time Masters champion golfer said:
“I think it’s pitiful. It’s amazing. From the epitome of perfection, [Mickelson is] down there being crucified. It’s not right.
“The greatest PR man on the golf Tour in the last five or X amount of years has been Phil Mickelson. He has been the ideal man for a sponsor, for professional golf, for the public, the way he’s handled the public, with dignity and with love. And he said he’s sorry. I’ve told him, ‘Hold your head up high. You’ve made a mistake. Everybody makes a mistake. He should go on with his life.”
There are so many confounding aspects of this story, it’s hard to find a starting spot. However, I have to begin somewhere, so I’ll pick… evoking Jesus Christ. What cross is Mickelson being nailed to? There are rumors he’s suspended, yet tour commissioner Jay Monahan dodged the question when asked about it, saying the leave is voluntary and they’ll cross that bridge when Mickelson returns.
So, it’s unclear if the PGA would’ve allowed Mickelson back had he accepted Augusta’s invitation to play. That said, the event reaching out to Mickelson to invite him to play (which he declined) shows that some of the backlash has already didsipated.
Player told Mickelson privately that he’s done his penance and can move on, and now he’s telling the public they can move on and embrace Phil again. That stunt with the turtleneck only further legitimizes this notion that Mickelson was onto something with this Saudi league, and he just stepped in goose shit on the way to tap in his birdie putt.
I’m not absolving the PGA Tour of its “obnoxious greed”; I’m just saying if Mickelson wants to combat it, he shouldn’t have ignored the research that led him to call his potential business partners “scary motherfuckers.”
Player, who hails from a country with a disgusting human rights record, essentially endorsing a rival golf league operated by people who also aren’t great with human rights, at the ceremonial opening of the sport’s most famous major won’t sit well with empathetic golf fans or PGA officials.
Saying Mickelson is the greatest pitch man in golf over the past handful of years isn’t wrong — people love Lefty for reasons that escape me — it’s just an admission that he, like Phil’s adoring faithful, also glosses over the fact that Mickelson narrowly avoided being indicted for insider trading in 2014 due to a glitch. He walked away without even having to testify while the two other men in the scheme faced prison time.
Also, are we sure Mickelson even asked for Player’s help? He’s off on Elba waiting for his exile to end, and now the guy — whose son allegedly got banned from the Masters for “ambush marketing” during a celebration of the first Black man to play in the tournament at last year’s event — is picking up his crusade? If I’m Mickelson, I’m facepalming all over again.
Player is 86 years old and spewing takes like “I love Indian women because they dress moderately” — which is something he also said Thursday at the Masters. It would get its own post if the other stuff he said and did hadn’t trumped it. (Maybe I can use my problematic grandpa joke in that one, because overtly praising the customs of possible business associates while throwing shade at “women with damn dresses up their bum” is an archaic, misogynistic marketing ploy.)
It’s hard to stand out during a tournament where Tiger Woods is heroically limping around the course, so kudos, I guess, to Player for making headlines and playing a heel that even Mel Gibson can hate.