Mickelson's Mindless Misfire

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Mouth Mistakenly Magnifies Moment
Posted on
February 23, 2022
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
Mickelson Mindless Misfire - LIV
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes


What will Phil do next?

Much of the fanfare tied to the career of Phil Mickelson has been the desire to take risks -- not always well thought out ones mind you -- either when playing on the world professional golf stage or elsewhere.

The wherewithal to play the riskiest of shots -- even when a smarter prudent play exists -- has endeared him to a large global fan base but left serious question marks about his inability to think coherently in securing the best outcome.

On the positive side from his playing days -- who can forget the gutsy second shot off pine needles between trees at the par-5 13th hole during the final round of the 2010 Masters which provided the impetus in securing his third green jacket.

On the flip side, the calamitous execution on the final hole of the '06 U.S. Open at Winged Foot when Lefty gave away his best opportunity to win the one major championship that likely will forever elude him. A safer play either off the tee or certainly with his second shot that day could well have added the one championship he lacks in completing a career Grand Slam.


Mickelson Mindless Misfire - LIV
(Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

Mickelson has often eschewed the "safe" play -- opting for the high reward possibility. Like a trapeze specialist operating without a safety net -- always showing supreme confidence -- even hubris -- when the risk of failure spells certain doom.  His detractors call it arrogance -- needing to prove his point when a more thoughtful reflective action could have produced more meaningful results.

It is this haughty approach propelling him at times to acclaim and causing immense frowns when actions backfired.

The apt phrase of "what will Phil do next" has become his calling card.

In the last several weeks Mickelson has taken his super star microphone and amplified it in a manner far beyond anything done via his on-course exploits.

It's important to point out Phil is no stranger to past instances with his verbal "shoot first ask questions later" approach.

Rewind the pages and who can forget Lefty's actions at the 2014 post Ryder Cup press conference when he pinned the Team USA defeat on the shoulders of captain Tom Watson.  Such feelings were generally handled through private conversations away from the glaring public spotlight. Mickelson opted for a public denouncement of Watson, an eight-time major champion and past USA Ryder Cup captain winner. Poorly handled? Obviously, but Mickelson made sure blood was spilled -- just not his.

Fast forward five years when Mickelson opted to hit a moving ball during the third round of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. When meeting with the press immediately afterwards Mickelson concocted an inane excuse to cover his unprofessional action. Given the pushback he ultimately owned up to his foolishness that day citing the frustration of his poor play. 

The USGA was well within its authority to have Mickelson thrown out of the championship for a serious breach of the rules but the Association folded like a cheap suit from actually doing so.

And one cannot forget the imbroglio Mickelson was entangled in with gambler Billy Walters. Phil's penchant for sports betting had him owing Walters a significant amount of dollars. Complicating matters is when Walters provided inside stock information about a food company (Dean Foods). Mickelson, who had not put more than $250,000 into previous stock market activity jumped in with over a $2 million investment and then promptly sold his shares the next day to the tune of just under $1 million thereby allowing him to repay Walters. 

Fortunately for Mickelson he was able to escape criminal charges even though branded "a relief defendant" and having to repay the money earned plus interest of $105,291. Mickelson neither admitted nor denied the allegations in the SEC's complaint. In short, Lefty was quite fortunate in having a legal parachute to escape. What befell Walters? He was found guilty on all ten counts. Keep in mind, for a golfer who made $48 million in the year when this incident happened, it begs the question -- why the need to get involved in the first place?

Fast forward to recent months with the acceleration of talk swirling around a rival faction -- emanating ouf of Saudi Arabia -- in its attempt to establish itself a chief rival to the dominance of the PGA Tour. Thus far, plenty of smoke but no real fire in terms of serious traction.

Mickelson's Mindless Misfire
(Adam Davy/PA)

PGA Tour brass through Commissioner Jay Monahan stated definitively if any member opted to play in the new Saudi effort such an action would mean banishment from the PGA Tour. In addition, since Tour members are also members of the PGA of America -- they would no longer be eligible for selection to Team USA for the Ryder Cup matches, according to CEO Seth Waugh.

At 51 years of age and having won his sixth major event last May at the PGA Championship would Mickelson demonstrate verbal restraint? Not at all. If anything, Phil simply leaped off the highest cliff available and went for the big splash which ultimately led to a big time crash.

What got things started was the usage of two words that lit the sky like fireworks on July 4 -- "obnoxious greed." Phil excoriated the PGA Tour for lining its pockets and not providing an appropriate amount to the players -- especially those at the highest level.

Serious charges but the actual facts proved otherwise.


*Media rights over human rights​*

The Saudi effort promised much in terms of guaranteed money for those willing to play under its banner. Mickelson then went off on a harangue concerning the PGA Tour's control of media rights - something all key sports groups whether they be the NFL, MLB, NBA, et al, have always had in order to generate the amount of dollars received from the major television networks. The common good has been the operating formula for the successful efforts of all such sports and it has provided a mutual win/win scenario that made Mickelson a wealthy man of immense means and established the PGA Tour as the most competitive golf scene on the planet.

What was missing from Mickelson's initial diatribe was no mention of how the Saudis have consistently demonstrated failure in the area of human rights-- most notably women in the Kingdom. It is not uncommon for authoritative governments to venture into the sports arena. Tempting players and organizations with vast sums aptly called "sports washing" in order to assert themselves as legitimate good fellows in using the cover of sports to  "wash" away the glaring negative impacts foisted on certain parts of their population.

One has to wonder how Phil explains his coziness to such a regime to his wife Amy? Did Phil not realize his involvement provides a clear legitimization of what the Saudis do on a daily basis? Did that matter to him? Or, is he, like other blind sportsmen simply hired mercenaries farming themselves out to the highest bidder? 

Left out by Phil is that no major sport provides media rights to its individual members -- whether on a singular level such as the PGA Tour or via the team level. Media rights are controlled by the parent group in order to spread the wealth generated for the common good of those participating. For example, Tom Brady does not control his media rights -- the NFL does. The same happens for Lebron James and the NBA and Mike Trout with the Los Angeles Angels and MLB. The attainment of the common good has provided incredible riches for Mickelson and his fellow golfers to battle for each week.

Mickelson Mindless Misfire - LIV
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)


*PGA Tour plays the long game​*

When Mickelson opted to walk the long plank by himself, he was intent in drawing verbal pushback from the head honchos at the PGA Tour. Smartly, Monahan and company said nothing. Opening up a verbal back and forth with Mickelson would only prolong the situation and give Phil a platform to play the "savior" role. 

The Tour realized star players would be asked for comments on the Saudi plan when showing up at PGA Tour events and let them take the lead role. Key players such as Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods quickly came out and said they would not be interested and remain loyal to the PGA Tour. Soon followed Brooke Koepka, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas staying put. 

At last week's Genesis event, former world number one Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau provided a clear picture on their respective loyalty. Some questioned if DJ as a two-time winner of the annual Saudi event and the mercurial DeChambeau would be tempted to shift allegiances. Both indicated they were staying put.

Tour players at the top of the pyramid have come to realize the nature of how their golf careers -- which can be short and problematic -- have been greatly aided by what the PGA Tour provides. To throw that aside on a questionable venture that cannot guarantee long term stability is a risk few, if any, are taking.

Mickelson doubled down stating his comments were to produce "leverage" in order to get the PGA Tour to adopt various positions he advocated. The simple fact is Phil misstated the existing situation with erroneous information only serving to ostracize him from the players he purports to be an advocate for.

McIlroy stated his feelings succinctly after Sunday's final round at the Genesis Invitational. “I don’t want to kick someone while he’s (Mickelson) down, obviously, but I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant. A lot of words to describe that interaction he had with Shipnuck. It was just very surprising and disappointing, sad. I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”

Billy Horschel similarly weighed in -- calling Mickelson's comments "Idiotic, complete lies."

Ouch -- indeed.

On Tuesday Mickelson posted a lengthy social media post (see full text below) in which he stated his comments were meant to be "off the record." The writer -- Alan Shipnuck of the Fire Pit Collective and author of the soon-to-be-released "Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf's Most Colorful Superstar," -- tweeted Tuesday that Mickelson's claim of "off the record" comments was "completely false."

Mickelson has always relished the daredevil role. Now, the situation -- one of his own causing -- has caused many to wonder what future role should Mickelson play in the sport. Phil has always been a champion of the Ryder Cup matches and the common belief was a future captaincy as a near certainty. Given where matters stand today it's fortunate for Mickelson to allow some time to go by and for emotions to settle.

Even before this situation escalated it was unlikely Phil would have been selected Captain for the '23 matches in Italy. However, the '25 matches at Bethpage on USA soil seemed a foregone conclusion for his initial run as Captain. That may still happen but the near certainty dimension is not a foregone conclusion now.

People have long memories. Expecting them to quickly and permanently delete the manner by which a Mickelson bull stormed through a china shop and created a messy aftermath will not be so easily forgotten. 

Mickelson Mindless Misfire - LIV
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

In his Tuesday statement Mickelson acknowledged his comments were "reckless" and "offended people." Self awareness is the first clear step in seeking redemption. Phil did say he would "need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

Noble sentiments for sure - but will they endure?

The Masters is less than two months away and whether Mickelson opts to play prior to Augusta will be a closely observed situation. There's little question when he does return the media scrum will push numerous questions for him to answer. How will he react? Squirming through with public humility displayed has never been Phil's way.

Undoubtedely, that focal point now becomes the next chapter in the never ending saga in -- what will Phil do next?

Stay tuned.


Phil Mickelson posted a lengthy statement via social media on February '22. The entire post is provided below. Mickelson's long-time relationship with the global financial firm KPMG -- dating back to 2006 -- also ended via mutual agreement. Will other sponsors follow?

“Although it doesn't look this way now given my recent comments, my actions throughout this process have always been with the best interest of golf, my peers, sponsors, and fans. There is the problem of off record comments being shared out of context and without my consent, but the bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this

“Golf desperately needs change, and real change is always preceded by disruption. I have always known that criticism would come with exploring anything new. I still chose to put myself at the forefront of this to inspire change, taking the hits publicly to do the work behind the scenes.

“My experience with LIV Golf Investments has been very positive. I apologize for anything I said that was taken out of context. The specific people I have worked with are visionaries and have only been supportive. More importantly they passionately love golf and share my drive to make the game better. They have a clear plan to create an updated and positive experience for everyone including players, sponsors, networks, and fans.

“I have incredible partners, and these relationships mean so much more to me than a contract. Many have been my most influential mentors and I consider all to be lifelong friends. The last thing I would ever want to do is compromise them or their business in any way, and I have given all of them the option to pause or end the relationship as I understand it might be necessary given the current circumstances. I believe in these people and companies and will always be here for them with or without a contract.

“I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and many have been shared with the public. My intent was never to hurt anyone and I’m so sorry to the people I have negatively impacted. This has always been about supporting the players and the game and I appreciate all the people who have given me the benefit of the doubt.

“Despite my belief that some changes have already been made within the overall discourse, I know I need to be accountable. For the past 31 years I have lived a very public life and I have strived to live up to my own expectations, be the role model the fans deserve, and be someone that inspires others. I’ve worked to compete at the highest level, be available to media, represent my sponsors with integrity, engage with volunteers and sign every autograph for my incredible fans. I have experienced many successful and rewarding moments that I will always cherish, but I have often failed myself and others too. The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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