Pity Poor Phil Mickelson


Posted by Bob Lord

It's irritating enough when we hear a plutocrat whine about his tax burden, but when a guy who has become fantastically wealthy playing golf does so, he ought to be facing jail time. 

I love the game of golf. I've been playing since I was 11, and introduced my sons to the game when they were 6. But I don't care all that much for golfers (except the ones I drink with after I play. I have a soft spot in my cold liberal heart for them). Golfers utterly fail to appreciate how fortunate they are to be playing golf on a regular basis. I especially don't care for pro golfers — not the ones who work in golf shops, but the ones you see on TV. They're insanely fortunate to accumulate unbelievable wealth doing something inherently frivolous, yet most come to see themselves as really important figures.

And they're rabidly conservative as a group. I read a golf digest article in 2004, where a poll of professional male golfers came out 64-0 in favor of Bush over Kerry. When a group's views are that uniform, something is wrong.

Enter Phil Mickelson.

He's one of the most successful golfers of all time. Including endorsements, he's made hundreds of millions playing golf. He's never spent a day in a regular job. He hasn't had it easy in every respect, with more than his fair share of family health issues. But financially, he's been insanely lucky. 

And here he is, in the NY Times Sports Section, whining about his increased tax burden. 

“I’m not going to jump the gun and do it right away,” he said after carding a six-under-par 66 to finish in a 10-way tie for 37th, “but there are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state. And, you know, it doesn’t work for me right now. So I’m going to have to make some changes.”

Last year, he was ranked by Forbes magazine as the seventh highest-paid athlete, with $47.8 million in earnings, including $43 million in endorsements.

“If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and state, my tax rate is 62, 63 percent,” Mickelson said. “So I’ve got to make some decisions on what to do.”

To start out with, he's clueless about his marginal tax rate. If you factor in the rate at which his federal tax burden is reduced by his state tax payments, his total marginal rate, including the new medicare tax, is between 52 and 53 percent. And, in all likelihood, he's avoiding the medicare tax on a good bit of his income outside his tour winnings. And he likely has capital gains income not reflected in the $47.8 million, which would be taxed at a much lower rate. 

At a minimum, if he does as well this year as he did in 2012, poor Phil will net more than $23 million after tax. I'd love to be the reporter at his next tour stop. "So, Phil, which social safetly net programs do you propose be slashed so you can have more than $23 million per year to spend?" "Phil, which poor people should pay more in tax so you can pay less in tax and spend more on jet fuel?" "Phil, how long did it take you to become the consummate elitist prick?" "Phil, do you think perhaps you should stick to golf?"

I would be less offended hearing these remarks from a professional basketball or football player. They have short careers. The money they make in a decade or so has to last them their entire lives. But golfers don't have that disadvantage and Phil Mickelson certainly doesn't. He's in his 21st year as a pro, still at the top of his game. And, when he retires from the PGA tour, he'll be able to play the Senior's tour, where he will be able to pocket more than a quarter mil for three days of toiling on the golf course. And even when that door closes, he'll still have endorsement deals, speaking opportunities, and course design work. 

Why is it exactly that we lionize these assholes? Isn't there a lesson to be learned from the Lance Armstrong and Joe Paterno fiascos? This is not meant as a categorical put-down of professinal sports. Sports have a place in our society. But that place has become too large, in my opinion. The relative amounts by which we celebrate those who do great things with their bodies compared to those who do great things with their minds is horribly out of balance. How do I know that? Because we've arrived at the point where the New York Times pays attention when Phil Mikelson whines about his heavy tax burden. 


  1. Thane, you and I have similar views on military spending. If I thought for a second that Mickelson is upset about his taxes because too much is spent on the military, I’d be a lot more sympathetic. But I’ve yet to hear one high income earner rail about how he doesn’t want to be taxed to fund a bloated military. I just don’t think excessive military spending was what motivated him to make those remarks.

    That said, I like your imaginary question, and should have had it on my list. Indeed, it should be a question for anyone who complains he’s overtaxed.

  2. In my imaginary universe that same reporter would ask “So, Phil, what military spending would you phase out so you can have more than $23 million per year to spend?”


    And because I can’t resist the urge to include a golf related link…

    “How the Fed Can Ruin Your Golf Game by Thomas DiLorenzo”

  3. My friend, your critical thinking skills could use a bit of improvement. I did not criticize Mickelson for engaging in tax planning. Most of us take some steps to minimize our tax burdens. I’m paid by my clients to help them on that front. But that is not what his statements were about. Public figures don’t take to the microphone to tell people they are doing some tax planning. Frankly, it’s absurd that you would interpret his statements in that way. And if he was merely letting the world know he was just doing some tax planning, his ego is a bit out of control. That would be like making an announcement that he changed underwear brands. If this was only about Phil Mickelson doing tax planning, why would anybody care? Sorry, but the clear implication of Phil’s remarks was that he felt he was overtaxed.

    I actually presume Tiger Woods chose to live in Florida because that is where he wanted to live when not on the road. I doubt he’s so money driven that the difference between a $1 Billion and a $1.05 Billion net worth would cause him to live somewhere he otherwise would not. And if he’s so money driven that money would determine where he lives, why has he given so much to charity? Why are you so sure Tiger Woods moved to Florida because he was obsessed about his taxes? Do you know this to be the case, or are you just using those critical thinking skills of yours? And is tax savings being the driving force for Tiger’s decision so obvious that it’s appropriate to ask the question rhetorically, in a manner suggesting I’d be a moron if I didn’t know that to be the case without having been told by Tiger himself?

    Tiger’s motivation for his state of residence, however, is not relevant to this discussion. Nor is the timing of Al Gore’s sale. There’s a difference between a public figure taking logical steps to reduce his tax burden and a public figure publicly whining that he’s being taxed too heavily.

    But you really saved your gem for last. Yes, blacks voted overwhelmingly for Obama and Mormons voted overwhelmingly for Romney. But Bush wasn’t a pro golfer, and there was no issue that pro golfers would have been focused on uniquely such that they as a group should be more uniform in their vote than any other voting group. So, Blacks voting 95% for Obama is about as insipid an explanation for golfers voting unanimously for Bush as you could have dreamed up.

    But I’ll acknowledge this much. I am far, far more jealous of Phil Mickelson’s golf game than I am of your critical thinking skills. So, on that count, you got me.

  4. So Phil is looking for ways to reduce his tax bill. What a selfish pr*ck! This probably makes you neo-communists believe in the death penalty doesn’t it?

    Just how much of Phil’s income do YOU feel Phil is entitled to keep Bob?

    Why do you think Tiger Woods moved to Florida? Why did Al Gore want the sale of his network to al Jezeera completed prior to January 1, 2013? I must have missed your attacks on them.

    “And they’re rabidly conservative as a group. I read a golf digest article in 2004, where a poll of professional male golfers came out 64-0 in favor of Bush over Kerry. When a group’s views are that uniform, something is wrong.”

    The horror! 95% of blacks voted for Obama, is there “something WRONG” with that Bob?

    Admit it, your just jealous aren’t you Bob?

  5. Right on Bob! I’ve been saying this for years! Our society is so obsessed with professional athletes.
    Are they greater than God?? I worry about the kids that worship these sports stars and then get so disappointed when they mess up or fail!