A Plea to Phil on Taxes

It could’ve been so different.

The reporters surround Phil Mickelson, ask some fairly innocuous questions, and then he starts: “Well, it’s been an interesting off-season.”

Sensing trouble, his loyal caddie Jim “Bones” McKay swoops in and attaches a muzzle over Phil’s mouth. You know, like one of those horse muzzles they put on thoroughbreds so they stay calm and can’t bite people’s fingers off. Phil adjusts the muzzle, gives the crowd a big thumbs-up and saunters away as the crowd cheers. “Our hero, Phil Mickelson!,” they shout as someone pulls up “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” on Spotify.

But of course, that didn’t happen. There was no muzzle. And Bones was probably off cleaning Phil’s 64-degree wedge. Just when Lefty needed to silence himself, he continued.

“I’m going to have to make some drastic changes,” he began. “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 is 62, 63 percent. I’ve got to make some decisions on what I am going to do.”

Put aside the absurdity of that supposed tax rate (experts suggest it’s closer to 50 percent) and think about it for a second: Phil, the lovable Lefty, may have just changed his reputation forever. In general, golf fans like Phil because we think he’s one of us – even when he clearly isn’t. Unlike many Tour stars, he’s not in perfect physical shape. Unlike Tiger Woods, he seems to enjoy mingling with the crowd and giving interviews. And like us, he finds himself off in the trees pretty often.

But in one fell swoop, Mickelson reminded everyone that he’s not like us. At a time when 7.8 percent of Americans are officially unemployed with several percentage points’ worth more having given up the job search, Mickelson’s job is to hit golf shots. While the median household made roughly $50,000 last year, Phil pulled in $45 million—that’s 900 times more than the average family. Yes. Nine hundred times more.

No matter your political beliefs or your feelings about taxes (maybe you love them, I don’t know), any time a multi-millionaire golfer complains about his financial troubles, it’s bad for the sport. It sounds like a conversation in the lunch room at Goldman Sachs—not at the locker room at your local muni. And the beauty of golf is that we can imagine ourselves as PGA Tour stars. We can stand right at the ropes, see a player’s lie and imagine what club we’d pull in that situation. But that fantasy is broken when players remind us that they could buy the ground we’re standing on and everything we own 100 times over.

As the website for a leading muzzle company explains, “Our muzzles have improved the lives of many horses by allowing them to graze with their buddies rather than being confined to a stall.” So consider it, Phil. Don’t you want to graze with your buddies? Don’t you want to gallop around Augusta with Keegan Bradley and then chew on some Krispy Kremes while wearing the Green Jacket? We don’t want to put you on a pedestal, and we don’t want to confine you to a stall. Just hit cool shots, smile and let us keep cheering for you.