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Mickelson’s tax math wasn’t so crazy after all



Auditing firm KPMG, one of Phil Mickelson’s primary sponsors, couldn’t have expected the golfer’s tax situation would make headlines during the 2013 golf season. However, for the second time this year, the share the second-ranked golfer is forking over to the government is in the news.

This time it isn’t Mickelson who has thrust his finances front and center, rather its the work of a variety of news outlets who have determined that Open Championship winner will be paying more than 60 percent of his winnings from that competition in taxes.

Mickelson’s tax situation first made headlines after the Humana Challenge earlier this year. Seemingly out of the blue, the golfer famously stated,

“If you add up all of the federal and you look at disibility and unemployment and the social security and the state, my tax rate is 62, 63 percent?”

Fallout from Mickelson’s bizarre non sequitur was as predictable as his series of apologies. In one camp, there were those who took Phil to task for discussing his finances publicly, believing that a man who plays golf for a living ought to stack his millions in silence. In the opposing camp, those who lauded Mickelson for shining a light on the tax situations of top golfers, who as ostensibly self-employed individuals, face a larger tax burden than many professional athletes.

The third popular response to Phil Mickelson’s claims that he pays more than 60 percent of his income in taxes went something like this: “How the heck is that possible?”

Well, it turns out it is possible, at least with respect to the golfer’s winnings in the UK: Lefty will be paying taxes in excess of 60 percent on his $1.43 million Open Championship winner’s check.

Of course, as the winner of the Scottish Open the week prior, he’s due to get hit hard on those earnings as well. Combined, Mickelson will forfeit about 61 percent on his earnings from the British and Scottish Opens, an estimated $2,167,500.


How is this possible?

Well, the United Kingdom has set Scotland’s tax rate at 45 percent above £150,000. Thus, Mickelson is due to pay £636,069 ($954,000, or 44.02 percent) on his Scottish winnings.

Additional federal taxes leveled by the U.S. government include a 2.9 percent self-employment tax and a 0.9 percent Medicare surtax.

Beyond this, as California does not have a foreign tax credit, he’s obligated to fork over 13.3 percent to his home state.

Mickelson’s math, with respect to his earnings within the U.S. was a bit off, to be sure. According to CNN Money, it’s unlikely the left-hander pays much more than 50 percent in taxes, which still means Uncle Sam is eating a sizable piece of Mickelsonian pie. However, Mickelson’s “pie” last year was nearly $50 million, according to Forbes, so Amy won’t be serving Ramen at the at their Rancho Santa Fe residence any time soon.

Whether this is fundamentally just is a question that is likely split along party lines here in the states.  Regardless of whether you feel the government (governments, in this case) should keep its hands out of Mickelson’s trouser pockets and applaud him for speaking out, or think that he should be happy with the millions he takes home every year for playing a game, it’s shocking (I think) to see the following breakdown:

Of the $2,167,500 Mickelson earned on his sojurn across the pond, after taxes and expenses, the golfer will take home only about $650,000.

Of course, he took home the claret jug, too.

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  1. naflack

    Jul 27, 2013 at 1:43 am

    i like phil, always have and i dont take issue with the fact that he is rich. my issue isnt with phil at all, it is more with so many who want to speak on behalf of the wealthy and the middle class, conveniantly putting both into neat little boxes i.e. rich guy = works hard and is a great american, middle class = dumb and lazy parasite.
    working 2 jobs that equal 60 hours a week is working hard just the same as phil beating balls for hours in 95 degree heat. one is a fine upstanding citizen and the other has made poor choices in life or they would also be rich. unfortunately if this were true there would be no one to deliver your pizza or change your oil cause they too would be wealthy and wouldnt need to toil in unskilled labor.
    again, the issue isnt the opinions on taxation, i tend to agree that the typical wage earner actually does get hosed in the grand scheme of things. the issue is the typical mindset that suggests if im not rich im a lazy parasite who wants to ride someone elses coat tails.

  2. Conservative

    Jul 26, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    I can literally read these responses and tell exactly which way each person voted in the last election…

    As for the article, I believe he was reflecting on what Phil said earlier in the year and drawing a parallel to the astronomical amount he was taxed this past week. He never said he agreed with it or not. It makes for an interesting article.

    I agree nobody wants to hear Phil talk about how much he has been taxed and we obviously have a lot of people who think he has been taxed what he says and plenty who think it is ridiculous that he could be taxed that much. He really is the only one who knows besides the government. Phil is a pretty smart guy and I have not seen him make many remarks without being very calculated in what he says. You can throw numbers around all you want and make an outcome that suits your belief, but the bottom line is that he owns a business and I am pretty sure he probably knows where a lot of his money goes. He has an American right by the tax code to write off travel and other business expenses. This is money spent on his business to keep it running. I do not understand the animosity that some of these progressives have for a man that works hard, pays what is required of him and does a lot for the community. I am not rich and Phil is not my favorite player, but I have to admit that I was happy when Phil stood up and said something. I don’t think he would have one problem with paying the amount that he does if he felt that government was spending one bit of it wisely.

    When did it become bad to make a good living by working hard? Yes I know Phil plays golf, but you cannot deny he works hard. If you are on this website looking around and say to yourself, “I would not trade places with him, play pro golf, won big $ and lots of tournaments;” then you are a hater.

  3. Determined

    Jul 26, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Dbl e

    You can dismiss the comparison between Phil and Detroit but the reason Detroit is Bankrupt is people like you that see and hate success?? Answer the question everyone in this great country ad the same opportunity as Phil and you find it fair to punish him with this success?? did they’re retake any of your grades and divide ??? You would not accept this but it’s OK for everyone else.

  4. Dbl E

    Jul 26, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Enough with Detroit. Comparing PM’s taxes and the bankruptcy of a metropolitan city is comparing apples and Detroit. My only point is that an über wealthy golfer, whose game I admire, has zero business complaining about getting taxed on the 2 million he made wacking a ball around when people are losing jobs and homes. As far as paying his team a percentage of his earnings lets not forget he is rich enough to afford a team, none of whom he is in any way obligated to employ except maybe his caddie. I’m not sure about that on tour. I don’t hate. He makes what he makes and I’m fine with it. Just don’t publically complain about the woes of being rich.

  5. Jamie

    Jul 26, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Someone else touched on it earlier. In addition to the gigantic tax burden, he’s paying Bones (likely 10% of the $2.2M), hi agent, a manager and probably countless other professionals he needs to keep the business running.

  6. Dbl E

    Jul 26, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Here is a point I think everyone should be mindful of; if there were a formula to rank the best teachers, policemen or women, etc. in the country, the best golfers would out-earn those significantly more important, more valuable pros by 100,000 country miles. Lets also not forget that he has a bed on his private jet, commutes to work via helicopter and has companies piling his driveway with free cars, clothes, Rolexes and amenities pretty much everyone else on the planet pays full freight for. And when he does pay, he ain’t paying 3900.00 a gallon for gas because he makes more money than us regulars paying 3.90 for unleaded. When it comes to the conversation regarding what a fair tax rate is, especially in this day, someone running a business trying to find a way to keep the five people on his payroll employed should always be the voice above the fold and not a golfer worth half a billion dollars. GOLFWRX is losing perspective by posting this insulting article. And let the author defend his stance, not his pal.

    • Determined

      Jul 26, 2013 at 5:35 pm


      Here is also the point you need to realize? If Phil plays terrible how much does he earn?? Did all those Teachers, fireman or women have the opportunity to earn a living at golf?? When you attended school did they ever take some of your grades and dived amount other people? Maybe they didn’t study that hard or maybe wasn’t as dedicated to the project but yet WE should award this behavior??? This attitude is why Detroit is bankrupt???

      WOW why do you hate so bad

    • naflack

      Jul 26, 2013 at 6:42 pm

      I think the majority of us lecherous Americans would tend to agree with you but of course we are parasites in the eyes the wealthy, so who cares what we think anyway…right?

  7. c

    Jul 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Wouldn’t he have incorporated himself. That way he can pay a salary to his agent, sports psychologist, Bones, Butch Harmon, his wife, an assistant, etc out of his corporation. That would bring his total income down a bit but I guess his earnings out of the corporation would still be into the multi-millions per year.

  8. Ryan

    Jul 26, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I hate to rain on the authors parade here, but Phil’s statement was basically “taxes in the US are too high”. To say “Phil is right! Look, he was taxed at a ridiculous rate outside the US” really, really misses the point of his statement.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Jul 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Nothing in the story suggests that Ben was taking Phil’s tax comments literally. How do I know? It’s in the story!

      “Mickelson’s math, with respect to his earnings within the U.S. was a bit off, to be sure.”

      I don’t see how people who have comprehended the story can say that Ben has “missed the point.” Clearly, he didn’t.

      – Zak

  9. Determined

    Jul 26, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Can someone say DETROIT…. It wont be long as if I would admit I’m a Democrat I would hide knowing what Democrats did to this great city. They followed the Democrat Model just like they are doing to Phil and America and amazing it didnt work????

  10. Les

    Jul 26, 2013 at 7:06 am

    The author is absolutely wrong with regard to Phil’s stateside taxation.

    39% for federal income tax
    13% for state income tax
    6.2-12.4% Social Security – I assume he’s self employed and pays both employer and employee rates
    3.8% Medicare tax
    God knows what else he pays for local wage taxes, property and school tax, sales tax, etc.

  11. Alüminyum Boru

    Jul 26, 2013 at 3:08 am

    good artical for me. thank you.

  12. naflack

    Jul 26, 2013 at 1:30 am

    at least we were able to keep politics out of this for a little while…

  13. cg

    Jul 25, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    remember, all the parasites need a host to feed off of…heaven forbid that they actually pay for their own food, rent, cellphone, school lunch, school breakfast, school supplies, bus fare, etc.

    far better to let someone else do it…but be sure to vote for the poverty pimp who promises stuff if you keep him in office..

    until you become DETROIT!!!

  14. W

    Jul 25, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Yes we would all like to have his problem, but is 60% plus fair? The top 1% pay 35-40 of the 3 trillion collected annually by the US Government. I don’t have a problem paying taxes but a huge problem the way they spend them.

    Small business owner

  15. Dbl E

    Jul 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    That may be the tax on paper, but what’s the reality of someone in PM’s position regarding opportunities to shelter that money in a way 99% of us can’t? He’s not handing his W-4 over to Stan at H&R Block. I’m pretty sure what he says he pays and what his KPMG team actually pay are very different. And the fact remains, he plays golf for approx. 50 mil per. Anyone crying for him needs to get off his jock because he is spending exactly ZERO time worrying about your bank account.

    • jason

      Jul 25, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      Regarding opportunities to shelter they are few and far between for a wage earner, which Phil is. He can deduct travel costs probably, he doesnt get many of the normal deductions because he earns too much. He can max out retirement accounts tax free. But that is capped around 20k annually. Hardly a “shelter” when he just coughed up nearly 1.6 million in taxes for a 2.1 milion dollar win. I know it is a lot of money and he isnt suffering, but these same laws affect the guy bustin his tail every day doing a great job owning a small business who might make 275K one year and 75K the next, and paid 100k in taxes on his good year. Now stripped of hard earned cash he fires three employees and tries to make it work, with a high probablility the IRS will look at his 75K and call him a liar the next year and come after him. Investment earnings can be more easily sheltered. Wage earnings cannot.

  16. naflack

    Jul 25, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Considering his original comments were regarding his tax situation in the states, not abroad, this doesn’t do much to support his argument. As many people stated at the time of his original comments, he’s not paying anywhere near that, that’s the role of accountants and tax experts for the wealthy and you know he’ s taking advantage of their services. I get it, this wraps up his original comments with a pretty ribbon but none the less these are rare and very distinct circumstances which apply to exceedingly few. Plus he could always opt out of playing across the pond but i’m guessing he’ll figure out a way to be happy in spite of this very very unfortunate circumstance (insert eye roll).

    • Jeff

      Jul 25, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      his comments were regarding CA state tax, which went up before the year. If you read the article, you’ll see he’s paying 13.3% in california because there’s no foreign tax credit (which many states have). If there were a foreign tax credit, he might even get money back from CA…assuming he didn’t make anything else in the US (which he already did by finishing second at he US Open).

      • naflack

        Jul 25, 2013 at 3:03 pm

        I read the entire article and the article regarding his earlier comments on the matter…
        Why should California give him a tax credit for taxes paid in another country, that isn’t California’s problem?
        If another state in the union is willing to give people this form of tax credit then perhaps Phil should move there per his original statement. This isn’t any different than a poor person asking for a handout!

        • naflack

          Jul 25, 2013 at 3:07 pm

          Furthermore, if he doesn’t want to move he should lobby to have the tax code changed instead of publicly whining about a problem that every American would love to have.

        • Jason

          Jul 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm

          Why should California get money earned in another country?

          There are alot of sides to this and unless this conversation is taking place between a bunch of tax experts then you probably have no clue what your talking about and you should be quiet.

          • naflack

            Jul 26, 2013 at 6:35 pm

            By that logic there shouldn’t be an article or any subsequent commentary from anyone outside the situation which I suspect includes you as well…good day.

    • jason

      Jul 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      This post shows the ignorance of the common american on taxes. Those who can use accountants are THE “wealthy” investors who have most of their income paid in dividends and as capitol gains, this can be hidden shifted and parlayed other ways. In short investment income is taxed differently. ANY wage earner salaried or otherwise (Rapper, Actor, Small business owner, professional athlete) will be subject to a tax on their income. It is generally inescapable (a few deductions here or there but not a significant amount). For Phil in the US it probably breaks down as such. US income tax 39% california tax 13.5% Social Security and other fees 5-7%. There is no magic for a wealthy wage earner. Phil really and truly does most likely pay around 60% here in the U.S in taxes. That is the truth of the matter, the fact that you make less, and want a slice of his pie doesnt make it any more morally correct that he pays his and millions others fair share.

      • naflack

        Jul 26, 2013 at 1:27 am

        i know people in high level finance positions and tax experts, i also know wealthy people who earn their money through investment as opposed to labor. you may be correct in that phil pays federal which most people dont but based on repeated conversations with these people i trust…i’ll stand by my comment, he is not paying 60% of his total income in tax. the things he could write off alone drops that amount, not to mention charitable donations.
        who the hell said anything about wanting a slice of phils pie?
        please speak for yourself.

  17. 8thehardway

    Jul 25, 2013 at 11:09 am

    “One for you, one, two for me.” I forget which comedy that line came from but am often reminded of the math.

  18. Kris

    Jul 25, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I thought we in Canada (as a socialist country) would be a lot higher taxed. But our top tax rates (depending on province) go between 39% (oil rich Alberta) to 50% (Nova Scotia for some reason). Mostly between 42 and 45. And to get over 35 in most places you have to earn 6 figures.

    • John

      Jul 25, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      See, the thing is, (we) Americans don’t really have all the freedom many think we have.

  19. Big_5_Hole

    Jul 25, 2013 at 11:03 am

    “Of the $2,167,500 Mickelson earned on his sojurn across the pond, after taxes and expenses, the golfer will take home only about $650,000.”

    That is obscene. No wonder the super-rich try and hide their money.

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