It’s a sad day for fans of golf-legend Phil Mickelson. Mickelson has been accused of sending roughly $2.75 million to a Gregory Silveira, a former handicapper who recently pleaded guilty to money laundering. Mickelson will not face prosecution, but reports of his involvement with an illegal gambling ring could be quite damaging.
This is not the first time Mickelson’s financial dealings have come into question. In 2014, the FBI and the SEC investigated the golfer for possible insider trading violations. Mickelson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012, but this controversy may sully his reputation.
In general, it has not been a good year for golf. This past April, China’s government began cracking down on the sport after communist party members were found guilty of (what the New York Times described as) “golf-related transgressions”. The activities in questions included using public funds to pay for rounds and allowing private companies to sponsor events. This is not the first time the government has expressed disapproval for golf. The game has been publicly criticized in China’s ever since Mao called it a “sport for millionaires”.
While Mao’s opinions may not resonate with most Americans, golf’s popularity does appear to be dwindling. In 2014 and 2015, coverage of the US Open was the lowest that it’s been since 1981. But it’s not just television ratings, golf’s popularity has decreased across the board. As Frank Fitzpatrick reported:
“Every year since 2000, the number of U.S. golfers has declined. That total has fallen by 5 million in the last decade, to roughly 25 million… In 2013 alone, 400,000 Americans gave up the game, and 150 courses closed. For each of the last nine years, far more U.S. golf courses have shut down than opened.
TaylorMade, the largest producer of equipment and apparel, reported that its sales dropped by an astonishing 28 percent in 2014. Dick’s Sporting Goods, the biggest golf retailer, recently laid off all 500 of the pros it had employed in its stores.”
The sport’s declining popularity has been largely attributed to the high prices associated with playing the game. Country Club memberships, equipment costs and greens fees are no longer something the average American can afford. As the sport’s become more exclusive, it’s also become less accessible to the younger generation. Now, golfs last superstars are falling from grace.
It seems as though golf’s once crisp white exterior has become faded and stained. Time will tell how these events affect the sport of golf as a whole, but the crisis is clear. Without some saving grace or a shift in industry practices, this beautiful game might slip away into relative obscurity.