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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Eamon Lynch

Lynch: Gaslighting is the new normal for players on LIV’s Saudi-funded tour

At first blush, little would seem to connect Phil Mickelson to Angela Lansbury, who died October 11 at age 96, her reputation intact. Lansbury’s legacy includes an Oscar-nominated debut in “Gaslight,” a 1944 film that originated the term “gaslighting,” decades before the charlatans of our present epoch perfected it. Gaslighting means manipulating a credulous audience to the point where they doubt the evidence before their eyes — essentially what LIV golfers have attempted by peddling a distorted reality this week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Including Mickelson, who might as well be cast in his own show, “Malarkey, He Spoke.”

Reaction to Mickelson’s comments focused on his claim that he never gave an “interview” to Alan Shipnuck, who revealed in February that Mickelson called his Saudi benefactors murderers, human rights abusers and “scary m-f’ers.” While plenty in golf media gnawed on this diversionary bone, it was sideshow spat about nomenclature — whether it was an interview on the record or a conversation off. Mickelson hasn’t denied talking to Shipnuck nor the veracity of the quotes. In fact, he apologized for his words, if only to the Saudis. It all distracted from the even more questionable assertions he offered while standing before the “scary m-f’ers.”

“I firmly believe that I’m on the winning side of how things are going to evolve and shape in the coming years for professional golf,” he said. “I love the way they involve us and listen to us in decisions. I mean it’s so inclusive … LIV Golf is leading. Whether it’s shorts, whether it’s other aspects of professional golf … ”

What remains for mockery when an American expresses gratitude to the Saudi regime for granting him inclusion and the right to bare flesh?

“I see LIV Golf trending upwards, I see the PGA Tour trending downwards,” Mickelson continued. “I love the side that I’m on … I love the way they treat us.”

If he has dwelled on how the Saudis treat others, he didn’t voice it.

Fair enough if Mickelson stands by his decision to jump tours. His belief that LIV is trending upward while the PGA Tour sinks might someday be borne out, just as someday Donald Trump might obey a statute. But that day is not at hand. More drunks are ejected on Saturday at the Phoenix Open than attend LIV tournaments, a number not much lower than those viewing on YouTube. The overwhelming majority of the world’s top players have not joined LIV, and no network will pay to air its tournaments. Mickelson’s salesmanship notwithstanding, it’s tough to render that as evidence of a thriving success story.

The gaslighting efforts of Mickelson’s colleagues are most feverishly being directed to the absence of world ranking points. LIV events meet almost none of the established criteria to qualify for points. Undeterred, MBS’s flaxen-haired finger puppet, Greg Norman, seems to think those rules don’t apply and has dispatched players hither and yon to insist that LIV receive immediate accreditation, a process that usually takes up to two years.

“We all agree and I think most people in the world of golf would agree that the field out here is to a certain strength now where it’s impossible to ignore the talent,” said Graeme McDowell, using logic that would see points awarded to the Seminole Pro-Member since that talent can’t be ignored either.

“We’re just looking for a fair court,” McDowell added, an audacious flourish when uttered in Saudi Arabia.

Patrick Reed addressed the OWGR issue, too. “Let’s be honest,” he began, with admirable conviction. “If you’re competing for a golf tournament and they meet every criteria that you’re supposed to meet in order to have world ranking points, then they should be getting world ranking points no matter what. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing, who you’re playing, what tour you’re on.”

Bryson DeChambeau made the same claim about all OWGR criteria having been met at last week’s LIV stop in Thailand. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t now.

By emphasizing the name recognition of its competitors, LIV is creating a false narrative: these stars are worthy of points and the circuit is being treated unfairly. But individual players are irrelevant to the question of ranking points. What matters is whether the tour on which they compete complies with OWGR rules. LIV doesn’t and has signaled no intent to do so, instead pretending that its players came from other tours with an inalienable right to points.

Never one to be outpaced in the victimhood stakes, Sergio Garcia launched his own gaslighting effort, positioning himself as an altruistic martyr by removing himself from a Ryder Cup team for which he was unlikely to qualify and on which he wouldn’t be much welcomed by anyone not named Rahm. “I don’t want to be something that might hurt the team. I love the Ryder Cup too much,” Garcia said. “That’s the way they want it. I’m just helping out.”

Much as he generously helped the pace of play by exiting the BMW PGA Championship last month after one round, without giving the DP World Tour the courtesy of an explanation.

It’s long been obvious that some LIV figures are blinded by personal grievance. What’s becoming more apparent is that others in the LIV orbit are choosing an alternate reality, one in which the application of rules is discriminatory, in which cash trumps competitive legacy, in which an army of Twitter bots represents a groundswell of popular support, and in which critics are branded “enemies of the truth” (to Norman’s well-known pal who sent my friend an unsolicited text describing me thus, and as a “fudge packer,” I’ll be circling back to you in due course).

The increasing bluster and distortions by LIV and its supplicants cement rather than obscure an air of desperation, as though the grotesque expenditure is simply not gaining traction or legitimacy fast enough. It lays bare the saleable character of its players. What they are required to do and say outside the ropes is more damaging than their presence inside. At Norman’s insistence, they’re caught in a bleak version of another Lansbury movie, The Manchurian Candidate.

“You’re very, very good at a great many things, but thinkin’, hon’, just simply isn’t one of them,” Lansbury, as Eleanor Iselin, said to the doomed pawn for her ambitions. “You just keep shouting ‘Point of Order, Point of Order’ into the television cameras and I will handle the rest.”

So they do as directed. But theirs is not reality, no matter how much they’re paid to pretend otherwise.

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