Veteran professional golfer Phil Mickelson made nearly $48 million last year for hitting a little white ball off the grass. It is something that, admittedly, he does very well. But, as far as manual labor goes, it is a pretty nice gig.

One would think that Mickelson, and his fellow professional golfers, would marvel at being so blessed for getting compensated so well for doing a job that millions of Americans pay a handsome amount of money every year to do as their source of recreation.

You would be wrong. Instead, this weekend Mickelson publicly mulled an early retirement, because of the crushing tax burden that will leave him destitute with a mere eight figures per year in disposable income.

That's correct. Mickelson has seen the political landscape shift in both his home state (California) and his nation, and he apparently is a bit miffed about it:

The 42-year-old golfer said he would talk in more detail about his plans -- possibly moving away from California or even retiring from golf -- before his hometown Farmers Insurance Open, the San Diego-area event that starts Thursday at Torrey Pines.

"I'm not sure what exactly, you know, I'm going to do yet," Mickelson said. "I'll probably talk about it more in depth next week. I'm not going to jump the gun, but there are going to be some. There are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state and, you know, it doesn't work for me right now. So I'm going to have to make some changes."

Between Sunday and today, however, someone clearly put in Mickelson's ear the radical notion that a guy who plays golf as a career, and has quite possibly earned a quarter of a billion dollars in his career for doing so, is probably not the most sympathetic vehicle for such a personal tax revolt. That, or someone told him that the 47 percent plays golf and buys gear, too. Either way, Mickelson's initial complaint was only in the public conversation for hours before he began a quick and measured retreat.

More on his reversal, and why his original statement was completely asinine to begin with, just past the fold.

During Sunday's post-tournament interview in Palm Springs, Mickelson estimated his own tax rate at "62 or 63 percent" once federal and state taxes were added to social security, etc. Of course, the deal struck between the president and Congress at the start of the year reinstated the previous tax rate for people in Mickelson's lofty income range. Compounding the "wound," a strong majority of California voters last year passed Proposition 30, which also increased the tax rate for the state's wealthiest citizens.

With the prospect of a tax rate incrementally higher than it was the year prior (and scarcely different than it was in the 1990s, when Mickelson was already annually earning millions on the PGA tour), Mickelson is contemplating "big changes."

There is a ton in here to mock. First of all, his estimate of paying "62 or 63 percent" in taxes is one step beyond absurd. I am guessing that even if Mickelson used freaking TurboTax, he'd be able to find a way to knock his effective tax rate down a peg or two. And I am willing to wager that Mickelson probably has used some of that largesse accumulated over the years to pay for an army of lawyers and accountants who can twist the tax code like a pretzel.

But, for a moment, let's give Phil Mickelson his nightmare scenario. Let's say he really did pay the "full 63 percent" on his income. Just factoring in last year's income (most of which, incidentally, came from endorsements, which would undoubtedly continue after his retirement), he would have to make do with the meager $17.7 million that would be left over after the orgy of government confiscation.

I am sure that the cops and public school teachers of America (those that still have jobs after a half-decade of "austerity," of course) will be sure to hold a telethon for poor Phil and his family.

Faced with the pain of having to make do on a mere $340,000 per week, Mickelson in his post-round comments semeed to hint at a potential need to retire at 42 years of age. I am sure my own father, were he still here, would feel awfully bad for Mickelson. After all, he had to take part-time work painting houses at the age of 55 after his firm laid him off, and did not retire until he was nearly 70 years of age. I am sure he can identify with a golfer who may have to prematurely call it quits after 22 strenuous years of playing ... you know ... golf.

In all seriousness, Mickelson's outburst was a mistake on two levels. For one thing, he has spent his entire career working on being the "likable" professional golfer. He has been, unlike a lot of professional athletes, incredibly mindful of image. This probably was a bit tone deaf, even with the unique audience that pro golf attracts. Sure, his personal tax revolt might resonate with the country club set, but a lot of the folks in those galleries are not millionaires. Savvy professional athletes know better. Though it irritated many Democrats, Michael Jordan assiduously avoided political stances on the maxim that "Republicans buy shoes, too."

What's more: professional golfers, of all the athletes in that higher tax bracket, have to be the least sympathetic vehicle for this kind of complaint. Professional football players have a very limited time frame in which to ply their craft, making their lavish compensation a bit more understandable. Let's face it: Nearly every professional sport is more physically demanding than golf.

Clearly, one or both of these concepts were impressed into the head of Mickelson, because he wasted little time on Monday backing down off his mini "going Galt" rant the day before:

"Finances and taxes are a personal matter, and I should not have made my opinions on them public," Mickelson said in a statement released late Monday night. "I apologize to those I have upset or insulted, and assure you I intend to not let it happen again."
If the recent election results, and recent polling data, made anything clear, it is the fact that most Americans are not of the opinion that the main problem in America today is that multimillionaires are overtaxed. It took a day or two, but it seems like even one-percent elites like Mickelson have been made aware of it, as well.

Note: You can follow the discussion on this topic in Ian Reifowitz's diary that spent much of Monday morning on the rec list.

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