Lefty is left out – if not left behind.

          Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson is skipping that tournament this week following the fallout from his flirtation with a proposed new Saudi Golf League.

          Jay Busbee of Yahoo Sports reported last month that, “Mickelson is on a self-imposed sabbatical after the February publication of an interview in which he indicated that he was using the Saudi-backed golf league as a way to exact concessions from, and vengeance against, the PGA Tour.”

          Jim Litke of the Associated Press had earlier noted the strangeness of Lefty’s criticism of the outfit with which he has made “at least $800 million…and climbing.”

          But most of the criticism directed Mickelson’s way came from his greed-first  endorsement of the new golf tour. Acknowledging that the Saudis are “scary,” he elaborated, “We know they killed (Washington Post reporter Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay.”

          Still, for Phil, Saudi money fills the bill, provides “leverage” to be used to change the PGA more to his liking. Forget the 81 people the Saudis executed on March 11 – or the tortures used to gather “evidence” against them.

          Mickelson was the most outrageous advocate for Saudi blood money, but 20 of the top 50 PGA members, according to AP’s Doug Ferguson, joined him in skipping Pebble Beach in order to pick up lucrative appearance fees as well as any money they might earn.

          There is a certain irony that Mickelson’s politics are keeping him away from Augusta, GA. The Masters has been a political lightning rod for years with its glorification of Old South elitism,

starting with its plantation-based name. (Why not just the Massas?) Until 1983, golfers could not use their own caddies on the course, bag-toting being the sole province of African Americans.

          After years of complaints, Augusta National admitted its first African American member in 1990. It wasn’t until 2012 that the august Augustans admitted a woman member.

          Still, sportswriters vie with each other to fawn over the course, the traditions, the azaleas. Of course, this is a wise move if they want to spend April in Georgia hobbing with the nobs.       Two CBS announcers received Masters bans for not speaking with proper deference. In 1966, Jack Whitaker misspoke by calling the “patrons” a “mob.” In 1994 Gary McCord said a fast green was playing as if it had been “bikini-waxed.”

          Desperate to maintain its lucrative arrangement, last year CBS had one of its news anchors, with the spring green course behind her, call the Masters, “the most prestigious” golf tournament in the world.

          That reminds me of the clause in Joe DiMaggio’s appearance contract that insisted he always be introduced as “the world’s greatest living ballplayer,” when, in fact he might never have been among the top ten.

          Anyway, got to protect that Old South charm. Better yet, create a diversion to keep people  from realizing the Masters’ bogus status as a major.

          The other three majors, the PGA, U.S. Open and The Open Championship (aka the British Open) feature fields of 156 players and are open to all who can qualify.

          The field at the mini-major in Georgia runs between 90-100 players who are invited to play. (This year, it will near the lower number.) Players can qualify for Augusta by winning a PGA event during the previous calendar year, but the event is an invitational with less than two-thirds the competitors as the true majors.

          That reduces the chance of an unknown golfer rising from obscurity to win the title. In 2003, Shaun Micheel was ranked 169th in the world when he won the U.S. Open. In 1969, Orville Moody advanced through local and sectional qualifying rounds to make it to the PGA – which he won for his only win on the PGA tour.

          Todd Hamilton won the British Open in 2004. He only qualified for the tour in 2003 after eight failed attempts and having spent the1990s on the Japanese and Asian circuits. But, with the elitism stretching from the clubhouse to the course, the obscure golfer does not play at Augusta. No one is going to catch lightning in a bottle, as the old cliché states, and deprive a star of his green jacket.

          Furthermore, the PGA and both Opens rotate their matches among some of the best golf courses in their countries. The Masters is always played at Augusta, which inevitably favors some golfers’ style of play over others.

          A good golfer with a particular skill set can pick off a “major” win – over a reduced field. For instance, the two golfers with the most major victories, Jack Nicklaus (18) and Tiger Woods (15) have six and five wins, respectively, at Augusta. Subtract those, and Nicklaus still leads with 12, but Woods’ 10 would place him behind Walter Hagen’s 11, all in pre-Masters days. And, when Hagen was playing in the teens and twenties last century, the Western Open, played in the Chicago area, was considered a premier event. Hagen won that five times.

          A look at Masters wins among other majors leaders demonstrates how some guys’ games fit the course: Ben Hogan, 2 Masters out of 9 majors; Gary Player, 3 of 9; Tom Watson, 2 of 9; Gene Sarazen, 1 of 9 with the Masters appearing late in his career; Sam Snead, 3 of 7; Arnold Palmer, 4 of 7; and both Mickleson and Nick Faldo, 3 of 6.

           These are pretty good golfers, of course, but put them on a course that suits their game  with a small field and their chances for “glory” increase.

          On the other side of the coin is Lee Trevino, who won the other three majors twice each, but never finished higher than tenth at the Masters. He opted not to compete some years.

          He was so uncomfortable with the Georgia snobbishness, according to El Paso sportswriter Ray Sanchez, “In 1972, he stored his shoes and gear in the trunk of his car instead of changing in the clubhouse.”

          Trevino also told Sanchez, “that the real reason he couldn’t win the Masters was because he couldn’t hit the ball high enough to conquer the hilly course.

          “He said he was strictly a line-drive hitter off the tee and that wouldn’t work on the Masters course. Nicklaus could hit the ball high and long and made history there.”

          I guess that’s what Trevino deserves for learning to keep his ball beneath the Texas winds.

          (Duncan resident Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)

Lefty left out at mini-major

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