Mickelson said of his decision: “A great shot is when you make it. A smart shot is when you don’t have the guts to try it.”
Vintage Lefty, and there’s no better summary of how the six-time Grand Slam winner carries himself, whether on the golf course or anywhere else. All of that is made clear in Alan Shipnuck’s captivating book, “Phil: The Heartbreaking (and Unauthorized) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar.”
The book will be released two days before the start of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, where Mickelson was expected to play as the reigning champion, improbably triumphing at Kiawah last year at age 50 to become the biggest winner of major age.
But on Friday night Mickelson withdrew, according to a statement from tournament officials, extending his absence from the PGA Tour dating from his last appearance in January.
Mickelson has not played in an officially sanctioned competitive round since early February at the Asian Tour’s Saudi International at the Royal Greens Country Club in Saudi Arabia. That same month, comments Mickelson made to Shipnuck in November 2021 surfaced and caused a stir.
Mickelson had been discussing a possible line-up with a Saudi-funded league called the LIV Golf Invitational Series and indicated he could overlook human rights abuses if it meant players got more influence in decisions normally made only by officials. of the PGA Tour.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to US intelligence, ordered the assassination of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the prince.
“We know they killed Khashoggi and they have a horrible record on human rights,” Mickelson told Shipnuck. “There they execute people for being gay. Knowing all this, why would he even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour operates.”
Mickelson’s troubling involvement in the Saudi golf league was far more intentional and extensive than simply adding his name to it, Shipnuck writes.
In an hour-long phone conversation with Shipnuck, Mickelson, who did not play at this year’s Masters for the first time since 1994, outlined plans for the Saudi league and revealed that he had recruited three other “top players” who were refused to name. , and the group paid lawyers to write the operating agreement.
How a Saudi challenge changed the PGA Tour and Phil Mickelson’s legacy
Speculation surrounding the motivation behind Mickelson’s ties to the Saudi league revolved around his well-documented attachment to the game. Shipnuck chronicles Mickelson’s association with bookmakers, most notably Billy Walters. The two became partners, pooling money and sharing profits when their bets were successful.
Mickelson made headlines for his affiliation with Walters as a result of an insider trading case. In May 2014, Mickelson was approached by the FBI at the Jack Nicklaus Memorial Tournament regarding an investigation of suspicious sales of Clorox stock by Walters and a billionaire investor.
The New York Times reported several weeks later that the FBI and SEC “found no evidence that Mr. Mickelson traded in Clorox stock.” But the story went on to say that Mickelson was not fully acquitted, and both agencies continued to investigate a theory that a source inside Dean Foods provided Walters with information about the company’s plans to spin off a subsidiary in an initial public offering.
Dean Foods shares soared more than 40 percent in August 2012, the day after the company announced the news.
In May 2016, Walters was charged with insider trading. The SEC alleged that he made $43 million on illegal tips from a Dean Foods board member who had borrowed from Walters after racking up huge gambling debts. Mickelson, meanwhile, had sold his shares and repaid Walters the money owed on the game.
Shipnuck’s most startling revelation relates to Mickelson’s gambling losses, which totaled more than $40 million between 2010 and 2014. This information came from a source with direct access to documents collected when government auditors conducted a forensic examination. of Mickelson’s finances.
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Walters went on trial in March 2017. Mickelson was not called to testify; His attorney had told both the prosecution and the defense that his client would invoke her Fifth Amendment rights. A jury found Walters guilty on all 10 counts and he was sentenced to five years in a minimum security facility in Pensacola, Florida.
Mickelson was never charged in part, Shipnuck argues, because the Walters case played out between two court rulings: the first, from New York’s Second Circuit in 2014, limited the government’s ability to prosecute insider trading cases; the latter, from the Supreme Court in 2016, held that “insiders could be prosecuted even if they did not know what the original whistleblower received.”
“This was the greatest escape in a life defined by them,” Shipnuck writes, aptly encapsulating Mickelson in a biography that is sure to raise questions for the World Golf Hall of Famer when his next event is.
Gene Wang is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
The heartbreaking (and unauthorized) biography of golf’s most colorful superstar
Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster. 256 pages $30
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