Column: For Mickelson, it's not easy being rich

Column: For Mickelson, it's not easy being rich

Published Jan. 23, 2013 7:01 p.m. ET

It's not always easy being rich, as Phil Mickelson reminded us the other day. There are taxes to pay - apparently lots of them - and the price of a tank of jet fuel seems to go up every day.

A million dollars a week just doesn't go as far as it used to, now that the wealthy are paying more in taxes. For Mickelson, things have gotten so bad that he's thinking of moving from California so the state doesn't get a cut of the $47 million that Golf Digest estimates he made last year.

Thankfully, it's not quite to the point where Tiger Woods and his buddies need to hold a car wash to raise money for Lefty. He has, after all, made an estimated $400 million in the last decade and even the greediest of tax collectors doesn't take it all.

And he does seem to realize - though a bit belatedly - that one thing rich people shouldn't do is complain to people who aren't rich about the taxes they have to pay. Mickelson was barely done moaning about the taxman the other day when he began a round of apologies that continued Wednesday at his hometown tournament in San Diego.


''I've made some dumb, dumb, mistakes, and, obviously, talking about this stuff was one of them,'' Mickelson said.

Not to worry. There are ways to stay put at home and still have enough left over for a few of the Five Guys hamburger franchises he loves so much.

Among them are:

WIN LESS: What good is winning when you have to pay so much of your earnings to the government? Sure, it goes against Mickelson's competitive instincts, but there's a good living to be made in the middle of the pack on the PGA Tour, where almost everyone is a millionaire. This week's winning payout at Torrey Pines is $1,080,000, but why deal with the anguish of giving so much of it away? Luckily Mickelson has already taken an important step in that direction by winning only two times since capturing the Masters three years ago.

THINK SILVER: Back in the days when the Tournament of Champions was held in Las Vegas and people still had silver dollars, the winner was paid every year with a wheelbarrow full of the coins. It might take a dump truck to hold enough silver dollars for today's huge purses, but imagine the fun Mickelson could have when the IRS comes by to take its share.

SMALLER PLANE: Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were always plane guys, and so is Mickelson. He saved enough to buy a jet of his own that seats 14, allowing him to do things like play in the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles and still be home in San Diego every night to tuck the kids in bed. But the Gulfstream 5 is a bit pricey at a reported $60 million, and it sucks up the gas. Maybe Mickelson could downsize to a used Cessna instead, or share a jet with Tiger. If all else fails, Southwest Airlines has a ton of flights out of San Diego every day, and his golf bag can fly free.

GIVE IT UP: Golf memberships are expensive, and Mickelson surely has more than one. But he's always seemed like a man of the people, so why not play golf at the local muni? The downside is six-hour rounds and greens with ruts in them as deep as the divots Mickelson takes with his 64-degree wedge. Still, it's a deal at 25 bucks or so a round, plus a few more for a pull cart.

MINOR LEAGUE: Who needs the Padres when you can have the Quakes? Sure, Mickelson's plans to own part of the San Diego Padres fell apart when his personal financial crisis hit, but that doesn't mean he's out of baseball altogether. Less than 100 miles up I-15 from his San Diego home are the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, a minor league team that would be a perfect fit for Lefty, who once had a pitching tryout of sorts with the Toledo Mud Hens. Mickelson could trim player payroll by taking the mound himself every fifth day.

NO GIVEAWAYS: Mickelson has a habit of finding some cute kid every few holes and handing them a barely used ball. That's not only a waste of a perfectly good ball, but can get expensive. From now on just flash that goofy smile, give the kids a thumbs up, and move on to the next hole.

FIRE SALE: Mickelson has had his house outside of San Diego in Rancho Santa Fe on the market now for a year for $7.1 million. That's probably a fair price for a 9,500 square-foot complex perched on a hillside with a big putting green and swimming pool, but maybe it's time to start doing a little bargaining to free up some extra cash. The good news is interest rates are so low some lucky buyer can get a mortgage on the place for only $31,795 a month.

GET A NEW CPA: Mickelson's claim that he will be paying up to 62 percent of his income in taxes this year bears some scrutiny, even with higher federal and state rates for the wealthy. Consider that former presidential candidate Mitt Romney - whose net worth is estimated at $250 million - paid an average of 20.2 percent of his income the past 20 years in taxes, and you have to wonder about the math. Maybe Mickelson needs to take his money out of Five Guys and buy H&R Block instead.

Then again, maybe Mickelson should just be like Tiger. He's spent most of his career chasing Woods, so why not follow him to Florida, where Woods moved the day he turned pro so he didn't have to pay higher taxes in his native California.

As an added benefit it could finally get Mickelson an invitation to the Tavistock Cup, which features rich players from one elite country club facing off against rich players from another elite country club.

The beauty of that? No state tax on the winnings.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or