Phil Mickelson looks like someone who has found out that money can’t buy you love

In the run-up to the Masters, the LIV Golf star seemed battered and bruised from all the abuse he’s taken.

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Phil Mickelson hitting a practice shot at the Masters.

Phil Mickelson hits a shot during a practice round Wednesday before the Masters. The tournament starts Thursday.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Phil Mickelson made $200 million when he signed with blood-spattered LIV Golf last year, so it’s hard to argue he has thrown everything away. The yachts, private islands and whatever else comes with fabulous wealth presumably are still intact. But the things that matter? Integrity, reputation and legacy?

Gone.

The Masters starts Thursday, and Mickelson will be there because tournament organizers caved in and allowed members of the PGA Tour’s rival circuit on to the venerated fairways of Augusta National. Most of the fans who flock to the tournament will cheer the three-time champion because Americans will cheer anything that has even the slightest hint of celebrity. This would include Taylor Swift’s toilet brush.

Deep down, though, even the most star-struck fan knows that Mickelson sold out to a murderous Saudi regime because he wanted his mountain of money to become a mountain range.

And if Mickelson’s session Tuesday with reporters at the Masters was any indication, he knows it, too. Compared to the old Phil — the enthusiastic, chatty Phil — he looked drawn and beaten down. Diminished, even. His answers were shorter than normal and lacked the usual vigor. It was as if someone had snuffed out his fire.

The one thing that always distinguished Mickelson from Tiger Woods was his willingness to open up. You might have been skeptical of his golly-gee act in front of a camera or his thumbs-up gestures to galleries, but whatever it was, you could count on his consistency. He tried hard, whereas Tiger stuck to clipped answers and a laser focus on winning. Mickelson wanted to win and be loved. Woods just wanted to win.

Last year, it seemed crystal clear that Phil loved money more than being loved.

Now? Judging by his appearance Tuesday, the need to be loved is a bigger part of him than he’d ever realized.

He should have thought of that when he signed on with the LIV Tour, which is backed by a Saudi government trying to change its murderous image by pumping money into sports. He should have thought of that when he told sportswriter Alan Shipnuck that the Saudis’ 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was unfortunate but, well, you know, golfers deserved a bigger piece of the PGA Tour’s pie.

Khashoggi’s sin was being critical of the regime of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi’s punishment was being chopped into pieces by Saudi agents. You wonder if Phil ever thinks of that when he slices one off the tee.

“[The Saudis are] scary [bleeps] to get involved with,” he told Shipnuck. “We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape how the PGA Tour operates.

“They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics but we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the new league] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”

Some people get mad when the past is brought up, especially when it doesn’t reflect well on them or a loved one. Too bad. This is a history that will never go away for Mickelson, and he’s to blame for it. No one else. An alliance with bin Salman is an indelible tattoo on the forehead. Mickelson couldn’t see that when he signed with LIV because the money impaired his vision. I’ll bet his sight has been restored in the past year, thanks to the public backlash against the rogue tour and its greedy golfers.

Staring back at him is an entity that has a lot of money but not a lot of good golf or much excitement. As Fred Couples put it recently, “If you’re giving Phil Mickelson $200 million at age 52 to shoot 74 and 75, God bless you.’’

Couples doesn’t begrudge his fellow golfer making as much money as possible. Every inch of a pro golfer’s wardrobe is for sale, should a corporation be looking for a place to slap its logo. So Couples understands the impulse to want more. Money knows money. But LIV Golf proved that there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Mickelson stepped over it, and now he’s facing the consequences.

This is all about what money can’t do for people. It can’t buy you love. It’s a hard lesson for someone as needy as Mickelson.

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