#AskAlan, Mickelson Edition (Part II)

Answering more of your questions about a story that won’t quit

By Alan Shipnuck

Do you think we’ll see Phil at the Masters? And what do you think the fan support will be? @kbgowing

Yes, I think that will be his first tournament back, an eerie throwback to Tiger Woods in 2010. Augusta National is the perfect place for a golfer engulfed in scandal to return to public life. It’s a highly controlled environment, with members of the print media forced to be on their best behavior and the broadcasters compelled to speak in feel-good pablum. Mickelson can hide out in the champions’ locker room as much as he needs. It’s also a course and a club that Phil loves and where he feels comfortable. I think he will get a rapturous reception (provided he doesn’t enlist with the Saudis between now and then). Sports fans love a comeback and a redemption story. In recent years Mickelson had become something of a cartoon character, preening about his calves and “hellacious seeds” and all that jazz. A more humble and human Phil will be wildly popular.

Do you feel any guilt that Phil’s sponsors are dropping him? @adamkommers

That’s not the right word, but I’m certainly stunned at how quickly they all jumped ship. Part of that is a measure of the Saudis’ toxicity. As I reported in last week’s #Ask, Workday had already decided not to renew Mickelson’s contract even before my book excerpt dropped. Mickelson has become increasingly strident and outspoken; his “obnoxious greed” comments to John Huggan at the Saudi International certainly did not play well in the halls of KPMG and Callaway, which have relationships with the Tour that are much bigger than just one endorser, even if he’s a Hall of Famer. 

 At the same time, Nike stood by Tiger Woods as he went through the tawdriest sex scandal of the Internet age, and then again after his addled mugshot and dash-cam video went around the world. (Of course, Woods’s problems, including with women, are rooted in addiction, which makes him more relatable and sympathetic than a rich dude scheming to get even richer.) Mickelson’s sponsors had been remarkably resilient through his myriad controversies. I mean, the guy was mixed up in a nasty insider trading case and KPMG, a financial services company (!), still kept him on the payroll. He savaged a proud champion in Tom Watson in front of the world at Gleneagles and no sponsors blinked. Mickelson tarnished himself and the national championship by playing tennis on the 13th green at Shinnecock Hills and yet the checks from corporate America kept rolling in. Yes, his comments to me made Mickelson sound greedy and conniving and tone-deaf and morally bankrupt, but he had previously wiggled out of so many jams it never occurred to me he wouldn’t do it again.

It has certainly been hard to watch his downward spiral. I’m not by any means dancing on Mickelson’s grave. This time of reflection evokes Dustin Johnson’s leave of absence in 2014; DJ came back a better player and person, and I wish the same for Mickelson. It has been uncomfortable for me to be at the center of this story. I knew there would be blowback, but my job is to enlighten golf fans. The professional game is at a crucial crossroads; all of this time, the key questions surrounding the Saudi seduction have been, What does Phil want? What is in his heart and his head? It was a mystery to everyone but me. With the SGL on the verge of being publicly announced, it didn’t feel right to bury Mickelson’s true feelings in the book for three more months, Woodward-style. So I feel no guilt. It is not my job to do Mickelson’s bidding, or the PGA Tour’s, or Saudi Arabia’s. My only duty is to tell it like it is.

Tiger Woods

On a scale of 1-10, how much more explosive info is in the book? @JefSommer

8.5? There’s a lot in there, but I don’t want to give the impression that this is just an exposé. I have always enjoyed covering Mickelson, and this book was written with a lot of affection. There are so many funny and ridiculous and outrageous stories about the guy. I celebrate his large-scale philanthropy and random acts of kindness and generous mentorship toward young players. I bring to life his most thrilling victories. But he has been involved in a lot of messiness, too, and it’s all in there. That’s why I think it is a balanced and fair look at a very complex person. For the smattering of Twitter trolls who have accused me of trying to “ruin” Mickelson, I will just say that I am in possession of some information about Phil that I have elected not to put in the book because it is highly personal and would cause pain to too many people. It would have been the juiciest material in the manuscript. Saudi Arabia, insider trading, Billy Walters, the bust-up with Bones, throwing Tom Watson under a Greyhound, gambling debts, the cold war with the USGA… all of this has played out in public. I’ve just dug deeper and gotten the real story behind it all. But some things are intensely personal, and I’ve respected that.

Does Phil end up being the Pete Rose of golf? #AskAlan @TheGhostofhogan

There is one story in the book about Mickelson gambling during tournament rounds on the PGA Tour, but it’s a cute tale and should not sound any alarm bells. On the subject of betting, I was told one incendiary tale that would have made international headlines, but the person directly involved was speaking to me off-the-record. Because I always honor those agreements, it’s not in the book. 

#askalan United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi) are the main sponsor of the European Tour. They abstained in the vote on a UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Saudi Arabia is certainly toxic, but UAE also violates some fundamental human rights. Double standard? @YCochennec

Clearly. This was Mickelson’s fatal miscalculation in bragging about his secret dealings with the Saudis: he underestimated the selective outrage that would come with brutal honesty. Professional golfers take tons of money from oppressive regimes—not only the UAE and Saudi Arabia but China as well. All of these players ritualistically talk about “growing the game” and speak in other established code so they get away with it. Phil was simply too blunt.

Alan, if Phil really wanted change in the PGA Tour, why didn’t he pursue more traditional routes like kicking Jay Monahan out and/or organizing the players to unionize? @ThomasJFerris

Where’s the fun in that? There have been rumblings through the years about a players union on Tour, but it has never had much traction. Trying to organize that would have been an effort in frustration, and having to cut game-changing deals through a union would be a political morass. Even if Mickelson could have somehow found a way to oust Monahan, the fundamental structure of professional golf would not have changed. With the Saudis providing the leverage, Phil saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and he plunged in.

#AskAlan At any point, do you see yourself calling Phil to see how he’s doing and having a conversation with him? @LaBeets50

The book goes to the printers next week. At that point, what’s done is done, and I was already thinking I’d reach out to Phil. If he wants, we can have a chat; this time, we can go off-the-record and perhaps clear the air on a few things. I’ll be at Augusta National, Southern Hills, Brookline and the Old Course. Presumably he will too. It would probably make it easier for both of us to do our jobs if we can talk out a few things before those important events. So, I’ll extend the olive branch. I doubt he’ll take me up on the offer, but Mickelson is so mercurial ya never know.

Pete Rose

For more on this story check out #AskAlan, Mickelson Edition (Part I) and Alan’s original article The Truth About Phil and Saudi Arabia.

14 thoughts on “#AskAlan, Mickelson Edition (Part II)”

  1. Alan, you can’t keep teasing what *isn’t* in the book, it’s killing me! Just spill the beans, get a good lawyer and watch your name be burned into the history books. Sure, you may never be able to sleep safe and sound ever again, but that’s a small price to pay for journalistic immortality. Right? 😉

    1. Cleveland Stokes

      It’s something that’s pretty common for athletes, but wouldn’t really serve any purpose other than nuking Phil.

  2. So you have more explosive material but aren’t revealing it? … Just by publishing those comments you do damage. Just be quiet if you don’t want to hurt people. I find this all disgusting and yes you should feel guilty. You go on and on to try and justify your successful takedown of Phil. How can you sleep at night. Oh yes people like you have no conscience.

    1. Yeah, I can respect everything everything Alan has said, up until that comment – it’s wildly self-serving. If you’re going to respect private boundaries then just do it. Don’t talk about how you are doing Phil a favor by covering up even more damning info. Just by putting it out there you are fanning the flames and encouraging wild speculation. Check out some golf message boards and see for yourself what your comment has done.

      Up until that point, you had nothing to apologize for, but that comment was shameful.

  3. Unless you have evidence that Alan held a gun to Phil’s head while he spoke with Saudi’s, hired a lawyer, and tried to get other Tour Pros involved, the Alan should feel no guilt.
    He’s a journalist.
    Don’t want bad things written about you, then don’t do bad things.
    Pretty simple.

    1. The comment you are responding to from JMD was in reference to Alan’s comment here that “I am in possession of some incredibly damaging information about Phil that I have elected not to put in the book because it is highly personal and would cause pain to too many people”, which sounds very ominous and suggestive. I’m not sure of Alan’s point in making that particular statement.

  4. Timothy Raczka

    I have never been a fan of your work ever since I read an article in a golf magazine regarding a “guys” golf trip you went on. Still disgusted that you “ratted” out your friends. What happens on a guys trip stays there period, end of story. Assuming you were never invited to join again and hopefully slapped. Rookie, tool move. Article was obnoxious and name dropping. Brutal.
    Regarding Phil: no class treats on your part. Best to have your head on a swivel brother. No clue….

    1. Ratted out his friends on a buddies trip? Good god, man, what kind of candy-colored dream world do you live in? Not a single man on that road venture was unaware that Alan is a golf writer and would certainly be crafting an article about the trip. And once it was out, they LOVED seeing their exploits in print. And this is hilarious: “What happens on a guys trip stays there period, end of story.” Almost as silly as the marketing slogan, “What happens in Vegas…etc.” That’s a complete joke, as everyone knows. When wild things happen in Sin City, the participants CAN’T WAIT to get around the water cooler and regale the unlucky who didn’t get to go. Same thing on a golf trip. (Unless, of course, you’re the type that forks over next month’s mortage payment to “Bodacious Bambi” in which case your secret is safe with me. But sympathies to your wife.) It slays me that people are slamming Alan for being a reporter who reports. But you know, paying attention to this story is a choice. As surmised earlier, Mickelson will probably get a laudatory welcome at Augusta National because 75 per cent of golf fans have NO CLUE regarding the details of this misadventure. So that begs the question: if you’re so disgusted, so offended at the release of a story whose principals are rocking the golf world… just what the HELL are you doing here? You’d be better served to go catch a few innocuous YouTube videos featuring tips on how to cure your slice.

      1. Timothy Raczka

        Go ahead and reread his piece. It was all about name dropping and was obnoxious. I get it, he writes a column and has to be “cute”. Just not my style, so sorry. Regarding Phil: ALAN’s comments came off as threats and didn’t serve a purpose. I am not fan of his work and that’s my choice, relax. Fyi, you tube clips for me….. how to fix a hook. A better players issue.

  5. I fully support your release of Phil’s statements on the SGL. If he said those things you deserve no blame for the fallout. However, saying you have highly personal damaging information about Phil that you’ve decided not to publish is complete rubbish. Anyone with a brain knows what you’re talking about. Total low blow to roll this grenade out there and act like you’re being the good guy. Publish the details if you want or shut up. But it’s too late to do the latter. Massive loss of respect for you.

  6. ‘Of course, Woods’s problems, including with women, are rooted in addiction’— Seriously you are going to spout that pablum? The guy who has the strongest mind in golf and who is iron-disciplined in his quest for golfing greatness can’t keep his pants on because of addiction?

    ‘Many in the psychological field who are skeptical that sex addiction is a disease point to a phenomenon called the “pathologizing the ordinary” — creating a category of mental disorder to redefine socially unacceptable behavior as a disease. The idea is that people have little or no control over diseases (unlike voluntary behaviors) so the patient has less responsibility for his or her actions’.

    How about you leave out the diagnostics next time.

  7. I am a fan, so it has been hard to see Phil taken down. What I find interesting, Alan, is that you bring Tiger in for comparison. Then you give him a pass for his transgressions because they are the result of his “addiction.” You seem to have more empathy for Tiger.
    I never rooted for Tiger in his heyday because he was so cold and impersonal. I met a golfer who played with him as a teenager in a junior golf tournament, and it seems Tiger has always been hard to like. I have learned more about him through his failures and have developed empathy for him. I was happy for his comeback and I hope to see Phil and Tiger battling on a golf course again someday. They are a story.
    Obviously, Alan, you are a self-serving journalist as egotistical as your subject, and just as greedy. And–you’re a Tiger fan. Tiger fans might want Phil to fail just as much as Phil fans might want Tiger to fail. Truth is I never want anyone to fail as a human being, but you want to take Phil down “affectionately” and make some money doing it. Maybe you think he needs to be lowered a notch or two, and maybe you are right. You gained access by pretending to be friendly and sunk your fangs in him as is your nature. It’s not noble, but it’s done. You are just an agent of the universe in the reckoning of Phil’s Karma.
    You want to write a book I would read? Write Tiger vs Phil, their rivalry, their impact, their relationship, their clay feet. Find out why they did what they did. See the parallels and the dynamics.
    You’re settling for a gratuitous, sensationalist, tabloid hit job. What is interesting is not that Phil has to be the smartest one in the room—but why? You have to know Tiger’s father and his place in Tiger’s life to really understand Tiger. You have to understand all the explanations placed on him and the ones he placed on himself and see the dynamics of it all. Now is the time for me to know more about Phil and I don’t think I will through you treatment of him.
    All you’ve talked about so far is cheap and shallow. You gained someone’s trust and stabbed him in the back. He might have had it coming, (and seen it coming) but in the process, you make yourself out to be a lowly individual. I would love to know your true beef with Phil. (Your failures as a human being might go further than you just being a snake by nature.) Alan isn’t interesting how much you became the story, too? See I’d be willing to forgive you if your piece had enough, depth and substance but I don’t see you getting to the heart and soul of anything… just because you know a bunch of dirt doesn’t make you more than a snake in the grass. Come on, Alan, you are as much a hit job on yourself. You don’t look much better as a human being. See, I’m not mad at you for taking down my favorite golfer. It’s just that you’re doing it in such a cheap, and shallow way. You got the who, what, where, when and how, but you come up short on the why. Phil is worthy of a deeper view. If this represents your work, we need a better writer.

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