The Story Behind Phil Mickelson's Call to Billy Walters

The Story Behind Phil Mickelson’s Call to Billy Walters

The co-author of “Gambler” sets the record straight

By Armen Keteyian
August 11, 2023

Given the artistic nature of the non-denial denial issued by Phil Mickelson on Thursday about whether he tried to bet $400,000 on the 2012 Ryder Cup,  there appears to be an assumption that the explosive allegation somehow went from the lips of Billy Walters to my ear and then straight into the book. Two cases in point: The Athletic opined that “the nature of the claims make it difficult if not impossible to verify both sides.” A LIV supporter tweeted, “Who do you believe? Six-time major champion, World Golf Hall of Famer, philanthropist, family man, and model citizen Phil Mickelson. OR Zero-time major champion and convicted felon Billy Walters? I’m gonna go with Lefty.”

For those who may be interested, here is the backstory:

I just about fell out of my chair on March 15, 2022, when Bill told me that Mickelson had called him in September 2012 to place a high-stakes bet on the U.S. team – of which Phil was a member – to beat the Europeans in the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago. Not only did Bill provide the specific amount ($400,000), he recalled his response to Phil as detailed in the book. As in, have you lost your effing mind?

My mind went straight into reporter mode. “Did you tell anybody about the phone call?” I asked Bill.

Turns out he had. Bill gave me the name of a high-ranking golf industry executive he had contacted after his conversation with Phil. A person I had already interviewed for the book.

Then I instinctively went into fact-checking mode.

Was the 2012 Ryder Cup held at Medinah? Check.

Was Phil on the team? Check.

Was the $400,000 figure consistent with Phil’s outsized betting pattern during that period? Check.   

How did the Americans do? They lost on the final day when the Europeans pulled off the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history, the so-called “Miracle at Medinah.”   

The next thing I did was reach out to the golf executive. According to the notes in my reporting notebook number six, I spoke with the executive on March 28, 2022. I taped the call. According to my transcript, the executive said he was watching the Ryder Cup on television when Bill called. Here’s what the executive said Bill told him: “You’re not going to believe what this dumb motherfucker wants me to do. He wants me to bet 400,000 on the USA to win. Not on his individual match or anything but the team to win.”

The executive continued: “So the reason I know it’s Medinah—and I’m 100 percent positive on this—I’m like everybody else, I associate certain events with other events. I remember Rory McIIroy oversleeping the last day of the singles and almost missing the thing. I know that was the same event. I’m 100 percent sure.”

Well, I wasn’t that sure. So I researched Rory and the 2012 Ryder Cup. Sure enough, news reports had him oversleeping that morning and almost missing his singles match. At that point, given the specifics of the second interview and the key facts lining up, I felt we had enough to include the anecdote in the book. Eventually, so did our editors and libel lawyers.

Still, I went a step further and asked Bill if he had told anyone else about Phil’s desire to bet on the Americans. Indeed, he also shared the story with a longtime friend who happens to be a world-class poker player and big-time sports gambler. So I called that person and taped that interview as well. Bill’s good friend told me that he clearly remembered the Ryder Cup call. And that he made a five-figure (losing) bet on the Americans based on their conversation. “I’m sure Phil said what Bill said,” he added. “What motive would Bill have for making this up?”

Based on my career as an investigative reporter for the past 40-odd years, I was all too aware of the incendiary nature of Mickelson’s Ryder Cup call. And if I didn’t feel completely confident that we could defend it in a court of law—my standard of reporting—it never would have seen the light of day. Which is how I feel about every last word in Gambler.

And Bill, to his credit, felt exactly the same way. 

Armen Keteyian is a former investigative reporter for Sports Illustrated and chief investigative correspondent for CBS News. He is an 11-time Emmy award winning journalist and author or co-author of five New York Times best-selling books, including “Tiger Woods.”

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4 thoughts on “The Story Behind Phil Mickelson’s Call to Billy Walters”

  1. As an American golf fan, the police escort that Rory got to make his tee time makes me mad. As a Chicagoan, I can absolutely understand why the police gave an Irishman the escort.

  2. nonsense of the highest order !! so as the ryder cup is being played PM calls to place bet and
    billy calls someone he knows and says guess what ?? people do not speak on the phone about
    things that can get you sent to jail !! Was not buying this bs story and the back story is a joke !!

    1. Sounds like you don’t know a ton about gambling.

      1) The call was not made “when the Ryder Cup is being played”, that was never stated. You typically make bets on sporting events prior to the start.
      2) Plenty of gamblers talk on the phone about bets. Even before gambling was largely made legal in the US, gamblers of this stature regularly fly to Vegas, Atlantic City, and foreign countries where gambling is legal. Why try to hide legal activity like they are some kind of mafia don?

  3. Flawed humans make flawed decisions. E.g., all of us. This is my overall point. However, if US is up 10-6 heading into singles, what odds is Phil getting? Betting $400 to win $300? $200? This is idiotic

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