#AskAlan, Phil Edition

Addressing all of the questions around Mickelson and his WD as the defending PGA champ looms large in absentia

By Alan Shipnuck
May 16, 2022

Knowing what you know, and in light of his withdrawal from the PGA Championship, do you think he can ever come back? @MrChickSports

Phil is a survivor. He has been through numerous controversies in his long career, and he has always emerged with his vast fan base (mostly) intact. As Jack Nicklaus recently said, we are a forgiving nation. Sports fans love a comeback and a redemption story. Tiger Woods has put his fans and family and the game through much worse and he has never been more beloved than right now, so there is certainly a road back for Mickelson. The complicating factor is the Saudis: If Phil takes their money, after revealing his true feelings about how scary they are, it is going to be hard for many fans and folks in the game to forgive him. But if he shows the tiniest bit of contrition and pledges his fealty to the PGA Tour, I think the golf world will be happy to cheer for him again.

How much did the Tour not granting his release influence this? @Scall1968

Mickelson is at a personal and professional crossroads. The PGA Tour’s hard-line refusal to allow any of its members to play in the first Saudi event in June has only made Phil’s decision-making more complicated. There is safety in staying with the herd, and if the Tour had granted releases, a bunch of its members would have played in the inaugural Saudi event. Now Mickelson has to decide if he wants to be the player who defies the Tour and potentially triggers an antitrust lawsuit that could reshape the business of professional golf. This would appeal to Phil’s ego and deep desire to be celebrated as a visionary agent of change, but it carries a considerable risk of forever alienating fans and would-be corporate sponsors. By not playing in the PGA Championship, Mickelson bought himself another few weeks to see how the ground will continue to shift.

What’s going on? Is he suspended? I’m confused. @PeteViles

There is no question the PGA Tour put Mickelson on ice; whether it was a suspension or a voluntary leave is purely semantics. But it has been 90 days since Phil’s comments became public, which was reportedly the length of Dustin Johnson’s suspension after he failed a second drug test years ago. Forcing Mickelson to the sidelines for longer than that feels excessive. Unlike the Masters, the PGA Championship is not an invitational run by an all-powerful club that can do whatever the hell it wants; Mickelson is exempt into the PGA field as defending champ. And even if the Tour wanted Phil to stay in the penalty box for longer than 90 days, the PGA of America does not have to uphold the disciplinary action of a rival organization. Let’s be real, the PGA of America would have loved for Phil to roll up to Southern Hills, as it would have been a monumental news event that drove monster TV ratings. The organization is funded largely by the proceeds of the PGA Championship, plus the Ryder Cup it hosts every four years. Of course Seth Waugh and everyone at the PGA wanted Phil to play. That he’s not doing so had to have been his call and no one else’s.

Can we just play golf? So many other issues in the world, this is a game, a distraction—when and why did it get so political? @Shoduluk

That’s an idealistic vision, as sports and politics have been intertwined going at least as far back as Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics. Gary Player was a lightning rod for South Africa’s apartheid. Lee Elder broke the Masters color barrier more than two decades after Rosa Parks. Shoal Creek laid bare country clubs’ shameful history of racial discrimination, and Martha Burk further highlighted the game’s exclusionary practices. So controversy is not a new phenomenon for the sport. Professional golf does not exist in a vacuum; the players and tournaments are shaped by the world around them. I understand it is tempting to wish that golf would be untouched by the issues of the day, but willful blindness has often led the game astray.

How much of this was seeing the Greg Norman debacle and realizing he was walking into a situation where he was not going to be able to exit looking good? @Bradorado1

Mickelson and Norman have never really been friends, but they are kindred spirits. Both have played the game the same way: aggressive bordering on reckless, and they have brought this same energy to the Saudi situation. Part of Mickelson has to be relieved that Norman, through his increasingly outrageous public statements, is taking some of the heat off of him. But, yes, it must be disquieting to imagine hitching your professional future to a pariah like Norman. A prominent Tour agent recently confided that he is hearing Norman is on the outs with the Saudis, which would be another wild development in this saga. If a leadership change is imminent with LIV Golf, that would be all the more reason for Mickelson to pass on the PGA Championship and take more time to assess a chaotic situation.

#AskAlan If Phil passes on London, can we say this is a self-hiatus that has no end in sight? @cmupensfan

Not necessarily, given the Tour’s refusal to grant releases. But if Mickelson doesn’t turn up for the ensuing U.S. Open, that raises the question as to whether he will write off the rest of this season. We all know the U.S. Open is the missing piece on Mickelson’s resume and winning the PGA brought him a five-year exemption to attempt to complete the career Grand Slam. To give up one of these precious chances would be an especially big deal.

One thing I’ve always been curious about: After Phil acknowledged all the issues with the Saudis out loud… they still wanted him on the tour? Isn’t the whole point to sportswash and pretend none of those issues exist? @ref513

I would say sportswashing is more about converting hearts and minds and turning skeptics into believers. If Phil starts making regular pilgrimages to Riyadh, visiting with girls in classrooms and eating at stylish restaurants alongside the female patrons Norman likes to cite, that would generate a ton of commentary given Mickelson’s previous skepticism. So perhaps his blunt comments make him the ideal ambassador to “see the light” and launder Saudi Arabia’s reputation. 

Do you think Phil cares what his true fans think of him now? I am a little younger than Phil, I have grown up a huge Phil fan, and I am super disappointed in him. @Stoner7976

Yes, he cares. He hasn’t signed all of those (hundreds of thousands?) autographs through the years because he doesn’t care. But he is also a strident personality who has to feel like he is always right. His only public statement has been a word salad in which he made himself both the hero and martyr of this situation. Mickelson didn’t acknowledge that many fans are hurt he would collude with a country that birthed 15 of the 9/11 hijackers and assassinated a Washington Post reporter who was a resident of the United States. To truly apologize would require that Mickelson admit he made a monumental mistake, and he is loathe to do that; in his mind he was a shrewd negotiator who was gaming the system. I’m not sure if some fans will ever get from Mickelson the contrition they need to forgive him.

LIV ”tour”… I have not actually heard/understood where one could follow/watch the matches in the U.S. or globally. Would it be pay-per-play with or without commercials? @Foregolffer

Nothing has been announced yet, as the tour is still scrambling to figure out its television/streaming situation. This could be a win for golf fans, meaning free broadcasts with no corporate intrusions, at least in the short term. 

Why has the golf media not discussed the issues with the PGA Tour that Phil originally brought up? They own the media rights of players, having pay-to-play in a made-for-TV event, etc. Are his issues not valid? @JStew68129215

Yes and no — the athletes in the big team sports don’t own their media rights either. If they did, TV contracts would be far less valuable and player salaries would shrink. But part of the irony, or tragedy, in all of this is that Mickelson was (is?) correct in many of his critiques, but that has been largely lost in all the outrage. Because of a lack of competition, the Tour product has become stale and its streaming and social media efforts are tepid, at best. Players should have a bigger voice in the business of the Tour and a bigger slice of the revenue streams. Phil was beginning to make inroads on these issues, and others, but clearly he has lost his political capital. 

Do you feel guilty at all about all this shit, Alan? @wokekenzie

It has been uncomfortable to be in the middle of this story. I have a lot of emotions about it, but guilt isn’t one of them. I did not force Mickelson to engage in sneaky dealings with the Saudis that could subvert his home tour even as he had a clear-eyed knowledge of their atrocities. I didn’t make him call me and tell me everything. Those were his choices. He created this mess. Once I knew the real story of Mickelson’s involvement with the Saudis, I had a fiduciary duty to bring the truth to fans and other stakeholders in the game. My fidelity is to the readers, not Phil Mickelson, not the PGA Tour and certainly not the Saudis. But part of me most definitely wishes Phil had never called me. At that point, I was a week away from my publisher’s deadline and the book was basically done. It was full of fun, lively, outrageous stories about Phil and enough juicy bits to create some buzz. His phone call to me turned both of our worlds upside down.

13 thoughts on “#AskAlan, Phil Edition”

  1. I have had just one question from the start, Where was all of this outrage over the Saudi’s Feb 3rd when they teed up for the International?

  2. Where is the righteous indignation regarding China hosting one of the biggest money-grab events on Tour? This is a country that it currently conducting genocide against an entire ethnic group, and it’s crickets from players and media alike. I thought Rory was going to dip his toe in the controversy months ago when he referenced his concerns about “flying to China,” but that turned out to be dismay over private jet use and climate change. Saudi Arabia is a bad actor but China is as well, and they are getting a free pass completely.

  3. Do you think something else is going on with Phil? Is he healthy? Mentally and physically? The sunglasses, he’s so subdued even when he won the PGA, the CBD gum he chews. It seems like ever since Covid happened he’s been very different.

  4. Alan:

    Phil Mickelson doesn’t owe me a thing. He had me when he won on the tour as an amateur. He’s a swashbuckler who analyzes the situation versus his skills and confidence, and then goes for broke. Always has, always will.

    As a kid, my house was heated with Saudi oil, so who am I to criticize? The Saudis have bought billions of $$ of military equipment from us for years. Is not the US Government complicit, as well? Is Phil the only one who gets a yellow flag? How about all the congressmen and senators who’ve taken junkets to Saudi Arabia. Business men who’ve made multi million $$ deals with the Saudis? Seems to me that the (golfing) world is painting with a rather narrow brush.

    Phil: I’ll watch you play any time I get the chance

  5. Brandel Chamblee is the absolute worst on this stuff. He is condescending as hell, but at the same time cherry picks data points that he does not fully understand himself. Can the Golf Channel please push Brandel to the side and offer the lead role to Paul McGinley? He is an absolute breath of fresh air!

  6. Alan it sounds like Phil just wanted to air out some thoughts: his grievances with the PGA tour, his misgivings about dealing with the Saudis, and the opportunity to leverage the PGA Tour. I’ll never believe he knew you would print his thoughts. He trusted you–his mistake. Now, it’s bigger than both of you.
    The PGA Tour is in upheaval. How little control PGA players have compared to NBA, NFL, and MBL has been exposed. They can play PGA tour events or be shunned. They can kiss the ring or be ostracized by the crony power network that controls everything: the media, the venues, the tournaments, and the money. To talk about players not being bigger than the game is b.s. — the players are the game — yet some would have us believe otherwise.
    Sport washing is b.s. too, all the players of any sport want is to compete–yet sports become politics. If players let politics affect their participation, would there have been a Jesse Owens? Do you think the Saudis having to answer for murdering Khashoggi, and the multitude of their human rights violations 18 times a year is a good thing–or a bad thing?
    I’m all for the LVI. I’m for better golf coverage, and that would mean better golf personalities. The PGA has very few, and it lost it’s best. Maybe golf can’t change the world, but golf could have some impact if golf could change. It clearly needs to. Why not be for something that could make the game better? We buy oil from anyone without a thought, but we’re a pariah if we don’t buy our golf from the PGA Tour?
    The more I think about it, the less I think Phil has anything to apologize for. I am look forward to a new golf channel on youTube t.v. with new announcers something less staid and more colorful. Having professional golf teams is cool, too. It’s like we do at my local golf club. They could have sponsors like the Callaway team, or the Titlist team. It would bring in more money. There could be team and individual prizes for every tournament. It would create more interest, more prizes, and more fun. Seeing golfers enjoy themselves playing with a team member in every tournament would be awesome. The stodginess of the PGA Tour is almost unbearable. I want it to change. Don’t you, Alan?

  7. ‘I had a fiduciary duty to bring the truth to fans and other stakeholders in the game.’ -Alan Shipnuck. What total BS…. Alan, the basis of ‘fiduciary’ is ‘trust’. The only person who benefited from you ‘bringing the truth’ was you. You violated Phil’s trust. Where was your. fiduciary duty to him? No surprise we are now reading that players on the tour don’t trust you. Enjoy your moment because I think you will be waiting a long time before anyone confides in you again. You have revealed yourself as the polar opposite to John Clayton, who knew what to report, and what not to report, which resulted in him having great trust and access throughout the NFL, -and a place in the NFL. Hall of Fame. If I were on the PGA Tour, you’d be the last person I’d give my time and trust to. Fiduciary my ass.

  8. Alan, that you feel uncomfortable at being in the middle of the story is noteworthy because this story says more about you than Phil. Sadly you don’t feel any guilt, which speaks volumes about your character or lack of it. Once you listened to Phil’s comments you became part of the story. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t ride your “self-serving fiduciary steed” while trampling integrity, confidence and honor. I hope you will have your own repercussions as a result of your actions. Doubtful they will be as burdensome as what Phil has borne….whose the better man now, huh???!!!

  9. The US does $24 billion of trade with Saudi Arabia, $15 billion of which we sell to them. Shall we cancel all those corporations who trade with the Saudis? At the same time Chamblee eviscerated Phil for the obnoxious greed comment, NBC was broadcasting the Olympics from China. Golf Channel is owned by NBC. Truly rich irony. The hypocrisy is staggering. Now we know why everyone would talk to Golf Insider Tim Rosaforte. They knew they could trust him. What a loss. We miss you, Tim. The PGA Tour dances on the edge of anti trust. And the oligopoly of the confederation of PGA Tours restricts trade.

  10. Just finished reading “Phil, The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar” by Alan Shipnuck. Up to Chapter Nineteen, it ended up being an interesting read. I have no idea if any of the stories Shipnuck tells are true, but at least it seemed unbiased.

    Chapter Nineteen almost seemed like the publisher forced Shipnuck to write that stuff and release it early. It was completely out of place with respect to the rest of the book, seemed rushed, and was the one snippet published for public consumption before the release (other than the salacious bits about gambling where no wrongdoing was found but that snippet likely drew some internet hits, too).

    My question to Shipnuck: if you wrote a book about yourself, would you be equally biased? As one example (of many), you recall a claimed physical threat by Phil, literally on page 1, at a tournament that you backed off on (good idea). But you then follow up with a reference to a fight you had in 5th grade: “For the record, I won that little scuffle and retired with a career record of 1-0.” Could be viewed as slightly narcissistic, but it underscores that holding the pen against others is easier than holding it against one’s self.

  11. A lotta guys posting here seem to be hoping the more salacious rumors about Phil are true. They must think by defending him here he’ll give em all a big smooch on the…! Keep dreamin’ boys. (And stick w/ it Alan S. You did the right thing.)

  12. Any way we can complain to Immigration about foreign golfers that have quit the pga tour but reside in the states? Seems to me they have green cards because of tour membership……LOL
    I know idle thought but I dislike them getting the benefits of living the rich live in Florida without any reason now that most have resigned form the PGA. I just would love to cause them trouble LOL

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