June 16, 2013
Phil Mickelson starts the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion with a one stroke lead as he attempts to finally win the national championship after a record five second place finishes.
Earlier this year, Mickelson, who is the seventh highest compensated athlete in the world according to Forbes, was widely denounced for complaining about the rise in taxes on the highest income Californians and implying he might decamp for a zero income tax state such as Texas or California.
Golfers pay taxes on their winnings in the state they win in, so Mickelson will pay income tax to the the state of Pennsylvania for whatever he wins on Sunday, but golfers make extraordinary amounts of endorsements. Phil is third in the world in endorsement income behind Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.
As a California taxpayer, I'd like to thank Phil for choosing to shoulder an ample share of the California tax burden over the last 21 years, unlike a certain even-better compensated native Californian golfer who legally changed his state of residence to Florida on the day he turned pro in 1996.
Today is Mickelson's 43rd birthday. The oldest U.S. Open winners are Hale Irwin (45 at Medinah in 1990), Ray Floyd (43 at Shinnecock Hills in 1986), and Ted Ray (43 at Inverness in 1920).
Golf's oldest major champion was Julius Boros at age 48 in the 1968 PGA.
It's not all that obvious why there is a sudden fall-off in winning big tournaments after a certain age. It's not like being an NFL quarterback or some other extremely hard sport.
With golfers, usually age just seems to sneak up and after awhile people notice that so-and-so just hasn't won in a few years. For example, Jack Nicklaus won two majors in 1980 at age 40. He remained a favorite for the next several years, almost winning majors at Pebble Beach in 1982 and Riviera in 1983. But by 1986, he hadn't won any Tour events, much less a major, since 1980. So he was finally ignored going into the 1986 Masters, which he came from behind to win at age 46.
Theoretically, older athletes would find their success diminishing if the talent pool was growing steadily. But it's hard to find obvious examples of that happening in the history of sports. And it's by no means clear that that's happening in big time golf. Asian nationals have contended in majors going back to 1971, but have only one once. There's been a moderate growth in continental Europeans, but most of the recent major winners seems to come from the same old English language countries, such as Northern Ireland and South Africa, as was true going back over half a century.
My guess is that we'll see a number of breakthroughs by older golfers over the next generation.
As a television sport, golf doesn't appear to have benefited quite as much as some others from the high definition-wide screen TV revolution. (Back in the Arnold Palmer era a half century ago, golf was a huge beneficiary of TV's emerging knack for switching cameras to track the most interesting shot happening right now. But, broadcasts haven't advanced that much since.) When you are actually at a tournament, you can watch the ball fly relative to the landscape and anticipate where it will come down. On TV, it's still a matter of a close up of the ball soaring against the sky and then, plop, well, what do you know, the ball turns out to have landed on the green or in the brook or wherever.
One thing that has changed about broadcasts is that you can now pick your own announcers. For example, you can watch the final round of the U.S. Open on CBS live and listen here to comedians Norm Macdonald, Chad Drew, and Jeff Martin commentate. Or at least I think that's how I think Sort-Of TV works. I haven't really been on top of any media innovations since 1997.
By Steve Sailer on 6/16/2013