If he hadn't received the message from president Obama's inaugural address on Monday, PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson got the idea this week: Millionaires, especially golf ones, should be seen and not heard. "You didn't sink that birdie, Phil!"
Before leaving La Qunita, Ca., for this week's Tour stop in San Diego Mickelson told reporters he would have something "drastic" to announce in the next days. While foggy on specifics, the three-time Masters winner hinted that it might have something to do with new taxes adopted by bankrupt California to help pay for its huge debt levels.
"If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate's 62, 63 per cent," Mickelson said. "So I've got to make some decisions on what I'm going to do." Mickelson appeared to be suggesting that he, like many businesses and wealthy people, was going to move to a low-tax state such as Texas, Florida, Nevada or Tennessee.
Nothing to see here, right? Capital preservation. Plenty of high profile people from Gerard Depardieu to half the PGA Tour have moved to low-tax domiciles. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is getting his francs out of the 75 per cent tax fire by heading to England. On Tuesday, Tiger Woods said tax reasons had caused him to move to Florida.
Yet Mickelson drew heat. Maybe it was Obama's comments Monday about the rich few getting too many breaks. Perhaps it was Mickelson's peeved tone. Whatever, Mickelson was immediately branded as a shirker in the great American social contract. Under a heading in Forbes entitled "Phil Mickelson, Stop Whining and Give Thanks for your Good Fortune" Syracuse professor Len Burman ripped Mickelson.
"Sir, you get paid astonishing amounts of money for playing golf – directly through the purses you win at tournaments and indirectly through all the endorsement deals that come with golf success... Do you have any idea how lucky you are?"
Doubt Mickelson feels lucky now. Not that luck is germane to the debate. Mickelson didn't win a lottery; he won the Masters after decades of hard work. No matter. Burman played Obama's "You didn't build that business" meme from the 2012 election, and it got traction. Mickelson was a whiny one-per center.
Mickelson was buried in an avalanche of criticism about entitled athletes. People from the tournament organizers to San Diego neighbours to Mickelson's own handlers reacted as if he'd given up the national security code.
Wednesday in San Diego, Mickelson was in full retreat mode. "This reminds me a lot of Winged Foot in 2006, where I hit a drive way left off the tents. So this happened to be way right, but way off the tents. You know, I've made some dumb, dumb mistakes, and, obviously, talking about this stuff was one of them."
Instead of saying there was no reason to apologize for his success, Mickelson mumbled boilerplate apologia as if his making less in golf would lower California's soaring debt rate . "My apology is for talking about it publicly," said a contrite Mickelson. "because I shouldn't take advantage of the forum that I have as a professional golfer to try to ignite change over these issues."
Okay. Could someone get that message to George Clooney and Bruce Springsteen as well? When asked by reporters how he felt about paying taxes, Mickelson scuttled for cover of Old Glory. "I've never had a problem paying my fair share. I don't know what that is right now, but I've never had a problem paying my fair share."
Because every good story deserves a punchline, here's today's: Mickelson's nickname is Lefty.
WHAT'S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT
Asked his thoughts on Mickelson's tax snarl, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem swallowed his whistle, wondering aloud what the fuss was about. To illustrate the ultra-conservative Tour's attitude to tax issues, Finchem told this tale:
"Dan Rostenkowski was the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and he was the chief writer of tax laws in our country. He was introduced to a player, I won't name him, who lived in a Southeastern state, and he asked him, why do you live there? He said well, I grew up here and my family is there. [Rostenkowski] said, yeah, but you should live in Florida or Texas. You don't have to pay any taxes. What? Are you an idiot? That was Dan Rostenkowski."
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
We may have crested a new hill in sports when19-year-old tennis star Sloane Stephens defeated Serena Williams at the Australian Open. Immediately upon shaking hands with Williams, Stephens went directly to her nearby cell phone to retrieve messages of congratulations. lol. Watch her post-match interview here.
No more to go a roaming, it seems.
DID YOU HEAR THE ONE ABOUT...
So did you hear that Manti Te'o's online girlfriend isn't dead? Yeah, she's just hiding out in Wayne Gretzky's mansion in Hollywood. Saw a picture of it in the Toronto Star. By the way, did you hear that Gretzk might be the next president of the Toronto Maple Leafs? Uh-huh. I heard it on Bob McCown's show. And why is it Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment if there's no entertainment. You know?
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