Make no mistake about it, the reason why we see the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson competing in tournaments such as the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic has very little to do with a desire to expand their competitive horizons and a whole lot to do with cold hard cash.
These early-season European Tour events are played at mediocre golf courses and pay a winner’s prize of around $500,000.
Does anyone truly believe that the likes of Woods and Mickelson hop on their private jets and travel 16 hours to the Middle East for a measly $500,000 winner’s prize when tournaments such as the Human Challenge, which is located right around the corner in La Quinta, Calif., offer a first place prize of over $1 million?
You see, European Tour events are allowed to offer appearance fees, and players such as Woods and Mickelson can easily command seven figures just to show up at events such as the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Many golf fans, including this writer, believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with offering appearance fees to the game’s top stars. After all, it’s really a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Title sponsors receive a significantly larger return on their investment through the likes of Woods and Mickelson simply showing up at their event. After all, would anyone be even contemplating tuning into this weekend’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic if Woods were not scheduled to appear?
The local fans get to see some of the top golfers in the world that they otherwise would have not had the opportunity to see if it weren’t for appearance fees.
And of course the players are well compensated for traveling halfway across the world to the Middle Eastern desert.
That being said, chasing down overseas appearance fees can occasionally have a negative effect on a player’s game.
Players such as Ben Curtis, Mark O’Meara, Mike Weir and Bubba Watson all jumped on the appearance fee gravy train following their major championship victories and it sent each player into a tailspin for at least a couple of years.
Despite the private jets, five-star hotels and personal chefs, it can still be quite difficult to travel to all corners of the world chasing down appearance fees while maintaining the ability to perform at a high level.
This brings us to the latest example of the potential hazards facing players that chase down overseas appearance fees.
Mickelson was reportedly paid $2 million just to show up at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship two weeks ago, where he finished in a tie for second place with Rory McIlroy.
However, while Mickelson may have left the Abu Dhabi desert with a boatload of money in hand, he also left with a back injury that forced him to withdraw from last week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
During the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Mickelson injured his back while attempting to hit his ball out of rough that was so dense it had more than a few tournament participants concerned about their health.
“Well, you've got to be careful,” Mickelson told the media, per ASAP Sports, following his opening round in Abu Dhabi.
“I kind of hurt myself going after one. You know, when you go really hard into it and it grabs your club, you just kind of‑‑ your body jars up, and I kind of twinged my back there on that last hole. And you've got to be careful and maybe just kind of wedge out and not risk any injury.”
Sergio Garcia also suffered a shoulder injury during the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
"I have tweaked a muscle and hitting from the rough is not helping,” Garcia said, per BBC Sports.
"The problem is they have cut it from green to tee and the ball nestles down. Every single ball nestles down and you can't hit it 100 yards,” Garcia continued.
When asked if he felt as if the rough was dangerous, Garcia responded by saying "I would say so."
While Garcia’s injury certainly didn’t carry over into last week’s Qatar Masters, where he defeated Mikko Ilonen in a sudden-death playoff, Garcia is a relatively healthy 34-year-old while Mickelson is 43-year-old who suffers from psoriatic arthritis and had to make a 16-hour flight back to San Diego immediately following his final round in Abu Dhabi.
Although Mickelson’s seven-figure appearance-fee check would have more than likely cleared his bank account by now, Lefty now possesses a back injury for his troubles.
And as most golfers know all too well, even muttering the words “back injury” is nearly as bad as bringing up the forbidden s-word (“shank”).
A back injury can derail a player’s entire career quicker than you can say the words Abu Dhabi, and that is particularly true for a 43-year-old who already suffers from psoriatic arthritis.
Mickelson, who has likely earned more than half a billion dollars in endorsements and on-course earnings during the course of his career, must be asking himself whether $2 million for 32 hours in the air and a back injury was really worth it.
As of right now Mickelson is questionable to defend his title at this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, and he is undoubtedly hoping that his $2 million cash grab doesn’t wind up costing him more than just a tournament or two on the PGA Tour.
While at their core appearance fees may benefit all parties involved, these cash-grab trips are not without risk for the players, and as the great Kenny Rogers once said, “You got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.”
Perhaps at the age of 43 and a mere one win away from the career grand slam, it might be time for Mickelson to fold ‘em on these long-distance European Tour money grabs.