Shipnuck v. Mickelson: Setting the Record Straight

By saying he never “did an interview” with Alan Shipnuck, Phil Mickelson is creatively trying to rewrite history

By Michael Bamberger

Maybe you’ve seen Alan’s beard. It’s a nod to his other life, as a rugged northern California outdoorsman. He’s camping with his four children, and his cellphone is either lost, off or both. If he’s lucky, he didn’t even hear Phil’s recent comment, at a LIV Golf event in Saudi Arabia. Mickelson said on Thursday that he never “did an interview” with Shipnuck. And that post-election call Donald Trump made to the Georgia secretary of state, looking for 11,780 votes, was a “perfect” call.

Yes, this all relates to Mickelson’s description of the Saudis as “scary motherfuckers” and other comments Mickelson made to Shipnuck during a phone call last November, the ones that shook the golf world when they were released a couple of months later. Shipnuck, by the way, never said their conversation was an interview either. He treated it as Mickelson venting for public consumption, and that’s how he used it.

Speaking of beards, I like Phil’s. The henna tat on the top of his left hand, inspired by Leaping Phil, a lasting image from his 2004 Masters win, looks like it could be part of the marketing campaign for the next “Planet of the Apes” movie. Phil has always been a wild mix of everything. But this thing from his LIV Golf press conference from the Royal Green Golf and Country Club in Jeddah is in my opinion an effort to rewrite history by way of bullshit.

Here’s how it unfolded:

Reporter: “You made some comments about this country last year, which you’ve apologized for. I’m just wondering, now [that] you’re here, have you changed your opinion?”

Phil: “I will reiterate: I never did an interview with Alan Shipnick [sic]. And I find that my experience, with everybody associated with LIV Golf, has been nothing but incredibly positive. And I have the utmost respect for everybody I’ve been involved with.”

He adjusts the stand-up microphone in front of him, which almost obscures his sunglasses perched on his black golf shirt, as he says reiterate.

He opens the fingers on his right hand at incredibly positive.

He punctuates utmost respect with an itty-bitty karate chop with his right hand.

Really, it’s such a good delivery you stand in awe. We’re talking Clinton-level.

But just as Phil can parse his off-the-pine-needles second shot on the 13th hole on Sunday at the 2010 Masters, any of his press-conference comments can be parsed too, including those three sentences.

Mickelson is not denying that he talked to Shipnuck, my longtime colleague and friend. He’s not denying that he said disparaging things about other Saudis—not the LIV guys!—like the scary motherfuckers who ordered and carried out the killing of the dissident newspaper columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

But what Mickelson said is to me an obvious effort to confuse the broad sports-following public, not those of us in its weeds. Normal people don’t have the time to try to understand the nuance of what Phil said. He must know that some people will take his comment to mean he didn’t talk to Shipnuck at all.

Here’s what I know, because Alan and I talked through this process. He was writing an unauthorized book about Phil Mickelson. He repeatedly asked Phil if he would talk for the book, by text, email and in person. Phil never said yes and he never said no. One of Mickelson’s lawyers, Glenn Cohen, called Shipnuck. There was a lot of back and forth.

Then one day late last year, and Alan talked about this on a Fire Drill podcast, Alan was driving in southern California with the oldest of his four children and Mickelson called him. Because Mickelson was finally calling him back, Shipnuck treated Phil’s venting as material he could use for his book. Mickelson may have his own view, which he, of course, is entitled to. But Shipnuck’s view is that the subject of his book was finally calling him and that he had every right to use what Mickelson was telling him. Shipnuck’s job in writing that book was to tell his readers what the wildly interesting golfer is really like. He succeeded, in my opinion. Hugely so.

In February, Mickelson offered a broad apology for his comments and used an interesting passive statement about his comments to Shipnuck:

“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.”

As Shipnuck and others have said, and I would agree, it takes two to go off-the-record, or to talk on background, or whatever other agreements reporters and their subjects might reach. It’s based on trust and history and other matters. “Off record” is a contract, of a kind. It was a presumptuous thing for Mickelson to say.

Alan repeatedly tried to reach Phil. There was a text volley. Phil finally called Alan back — late but not too late. He was, in my opinion, trying to spin Alan. Alan would not be spun. He treated the call as material he could use and he did. He didn’t need, quote, permission.

About this matter, both Mickelson and Shipnuck would agree. Phil’s call to Alan was reckless. At least he owned that.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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22 thoughts on “Shipnuck v. Mickelson: Setting the Record Straight”

  1. FerGawdsSake FIGJAM, just man up and own what you did. Rich dudes thinking they get a pass for their own stupidity, and casting themselves as victims whenever they have to face the consequences of their own actions is a weak look. Weak and pathetic.

  2. Team Shipnuck all the way. I didn’t think I could lose more respect for Mickelson than I have to date. I was wrong.

  3. 100% agree with David Conlon. Phil has shown himself to be such a self-centered, disingenuous asshole I am mad at myself for liking and defending him all these years. Alan and Mike have decades of history not betraying trusts of their subjects and the highest journalism integrity. Integrity and Phil Mickelson cannot be used in the same sentance.

  4. Mr. Shipnuck might heed what Michael Schudson of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote: “It may also be time for journalists to acknowledge that they write from a set of values, not simply from a disinterested effort at truth. This will not be easy, since journalists have spent decades denying that their personal values have anything to do with their new reporting.”
    Couldn’t Mr. Shipnuck have simply asked Mr Mickelson if it would be okay to relay his off the record comments? What professional golfer would now ever speak candidly to Mr. Shipnuck after this debacle? He betrayed implicit trust to benefit his own marginal sports reporting career. Not uncommon among wannabe “journalists”

    1. Why have you put his job in quotation marks. What do you do in life? You wouldn’t say a so-called “teacher” or a so-called “doctor” would you?

      He’s not a marginal sports reporter, he’s one of the best in golf journalism of the past 30 years. He’s not a wannabe journalist, he’s closer to the end of his career! These sorts of insulting insinuations about someone’s profession only reflects badly on you.

      1. There is no question that Mr. Shipnuck is near the end of his “career”, since no professional golfer will ever trust him from this point forward. Hard to be a quality golf journalist when you’re known for your duplicity and betrayal.

    2. Tony- you seem to be deliberately missing the point here. The thing to grasp is that Phil’s comments were emphatically NOT off the record. Phil would have had to explicitly request that, and Alan would have had to agree. Only then would any of the exchange been off the record. This point has been made repeatedly.

    3. Marginal sports reporting career? Wannabe journalist.? That’s laughable. Alan will get WGHOF votes, just like that other wannabe guy Bamberger.

  5. One needs to look no further than Mickelson’s left hand to realize we’re dealing with a mid-life crisis for the ages. What a mess. Stick to your guns, Alan! Not sure about the angles of the beard trimming, though.

  6. I think it is despicable that Phil and other American golfers have joined the LIV. The Saudis are no friends of ours.
    Several of the Sept. 11 terrorists were Saudis. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians over OPEC oil production.
    They have no regard for human rights or lives. And you want to play for their money. Shame on you and the rest of you!!!

  7. I disagree, Michael. When a person says “off-the-record,” it’s OTR. It’s not a two-way street, imo, where the journalist gets to agree to it or not. You can try to change the subject’s mind, but until he or she recants the OTR remark, the comments aren’t useable. I do wonder, though, what Mickelson’s motivation was. Why call at all? You don’t vent to a journalist writing a book about you. That’s what agents are for!

    1. Tom- this is not what happened. Phil only claimed the exchange was off the record after the fact. Alan has been abundantly clear about this from the beginning- that at no point during the actual conversation did Phil request that it be off record.

  8. I think the most salient point Michael makes is near the middle of this piece: “But what Mickelson said is to me an obvious effort to confuse the broad sports-following public, not those of us in its weeds. Normal people don’t have the time to try to understand the nuance of what Phil said. He must know that some people will take his comment to mean he didn’t talk to Shipnuck at all.”

    It’s the same tactic that Trump and his followers use repeatedly: tell a big enough lie loud enough and often enough and it becomes the truth to many people. Mickelson is desperate to salvage what’s left of his reputation; many uninformed people will grant him that favor.

  9. Barely a week goes by without the Saudi Olympic Committee adding yet another sporting federation to its rapidly expanding portfolio. The latest sport to be given a major boost is field hockey, and leading the campaign to raise awareness about it is Mohammed Al-Mandeel, president of the Saudi Hockey Federation.
    Al-Mandeel saw Phil batting his ball around on the green and recognized great field hockey potential. Once Phil Al-Mickel completes his citizenship requirements e.g. a test of Saudi history that does not include certain dates (9-11) and events (murdered journalists), he’ll sign for 100M and 100K per goal.
    Phil tried baseball a few years back….it didn’t work out. He is not a particularly successful backgammon player..and also ” in the Quran gambling is a “grave sin” and “abominations of Satan’s handiwork.” I’ll be wearing a field hockey shirt with his number.

  10. Phil called the guy who was doing an unauthorized biography on him and said some incredible things, never saying that his comments were off the record. Those comments ended up in the book. Surprise.

  11. Mickelson is a sleazy phony who nobody should have any respect for. He’s an over the hill 50 something golf professional looking for one more massive payday. If he would be honest about that maybe he’d gain a scintilla of respect. Instead he continues to lie and disparage others who have much more credibility and character than him.

  12. The need for the author to show his left political alliance in the first paragraph does the writing a disservice. Came here for the interesting topic but first author has to get right into same old national politics b.s. Move on already.

  13. So sad its come to this. I love golf, playing it, reading about it, & watching it. Mickelson has been both entertaining & inspiring over the years but, this latest episode detracts massively from any legacy he may have hoped to leave. Not a Bobby Jones or an “Arnie” ( The King).

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