Phil Mickelson.

The Mickelson Mystery

IRC’S SUNDAY NEWSLETTER

The questions surrounding Phil Mickelson’s return to competition remain, and after the recent statement released by his agent, we are still none the wiser.

I must believe that there are many golf who that are wondering just when Mickelson is planning to end his self-imposed exile. With a little more than a fortnight to go before the season’s second major, when the left-hander could defend his PGA Championship title, one might have thought that he would have come out of hiding by now. We still don’t know whether he has made his peace with the PGA Tour’s hierarchy, who could still slap a ban on him for his inflammatory remarks made about the Tour. Although well within their rights to censure Mickelson, it was always likely that the six-time Major champion would come out on top in a feud with the Tour, given their history. The truth is, the Tour officials have always avoided conflict with the players – particularly the higher profile ones, and more than a few indiscretions have been swept under the carpet.

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Famously, about a decade ago Mickelson was involved in an insider-trading stock scandal which was investigated by both the FBI and the SEC. The result was that Mickelson had to pay back more than $1 million plus interest – the supposed amount of his ill-gotten gains. What made this episode more egregious was that it was reported by the Wall Street Journal at the time that Mickelson had admitted to the Feds that he had used a tip from renowned high-stakes, Las Vegas sports gambler Billy Walters to buy stock that appreciated some 40 percent overnight. He then used this windfall to repay debts owed to Walters for unspecified gambling losses. 

Mickelson was not charged, because the SEC could not prove that the stock tip he received from Walters was relayed via the inside information the gambler had received from a CEO who also owed him money. You cannot make this up! Some two years after this scandal, a certain Gregory Silveira, another fellow known for his ties with high-roller gambling, was sentenced to a year in the clink for laundering $2.7 million of Mickelson’s money used to pay, again, undisclosed gambling debts. The PGA Tour takes a dim view of its members becoming embroiled in any scandals yet took no action against Mickelson.

When Mickelson’s agent Steve Loy recently came out to say that his charge had registered to play in both the PGA Championship and the US Open, this meant nothing. He also said that Mickelson had applied for a “release” to play in the LIV Golf Invitational in London, June 9 – 11. The statement continued: “Phil currently has no concrete plans on when and where he will play. Any actions taken are in no way a reflection of a final decision made, but rather to keep all options open.” Not exactly a bombshell. Players register and withdraw all the time, so there is no guarantee that Mickelson will tee it up in the PGA or the US Open. I’m sure if he does receive a release from the Tour to play in the LIV event, he will. Whether he applies to play in any more of the Greg Norman-led “rebel” events is another matter, and if he decides to play without the blessing of the Tour he will be banned from the organisation, which will certainly result in a flurry of lawsuits being filed.

From where I’m sitting, this appears to be a high-stakes game of chicken. The last thing the Tour needs is a dispute in the courts, even if they believe they would win. Mickelson, who has already lost lucrative sponsorship deals after his ill-conceived outburst against the Tour, would seem to have little to lose, and a lot to gain by chasing the Saudi petrodollars.

What I did find interesting was Greg Norman suddenly announcing that he might come out of retirement to play in the 150th Open Championship at the Old Course in July. After a 13-year absence, Norman hinted that he might be given a special exemption. He is, after all, a former Open champion, but he is now 67, and the former champion exempt status expires out when a player turns 60. The cynics immediately maintained that Norman’s announcement was nothing more than a thinly veiled publicity stunt to promote LIV Golf events.

It was believed that Mickelson would be the first marquee professional to come out and support the big money being offered, and Norman perhaps assumed that if this was so, he could tempt some of the young guns to also forsake the PGA Tour. This hasn’t happened.

I was amused to hear Bryson De Chambeau say that Phil Mickelson had “gone dark.” Since Mickelson decided to lay low, there have been several “reported” sightings, which have had about as much credibility as the Elvis “sightings,” which always seemed to be at some or other supermarket. Most recently Mickelson was photographed playing at a course in San Diego. Whether fine-tuning his game for his comeback or simply playing in one of his beloved gambling schools we do not know.  -IRC.

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