Phil Mickelson was at the center of golf’s biggest story over the weekend, a story that had also begun to bleed into mainstream sports consciousness.
He’s one of the few non-Tiger golfers who can do that, something he’s used to from his huge gain over the years, bolstering his platform with things like a well-received ManningCast appearance. This time, however, it was for a much less flattering story: Mickelson revealed in quotes to golf writer (and author of an upcoming book on Mickelson) Alan Shipnuck that not only had he paid to write the docs founders of a golf tour supported by the Saudi government, but that he had done so knowing very well the kind of people he was involved with.
And, on top of that, he then made sure to note that he wasn’t even sure he wanted the business to succeed; instead, it was primarily a tool Mickelson was trying to use to force the PGA Tour into various changes that would make more money for big-name players at the top of the sport.
Here’s the money quote, via Shipnuck at the Firepit Collective:
“These are some scary motherfuckers to get involved with,” he said. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible human rights record. They execute people there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because it’s a unique opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works.
Over the weekend, a parade of Phil’s other PGA Tour stars spoke out against the idea, including players like Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson who were previously considered highly likely to join. With an ill-advised decision to open his mouth, Mickelson had not only gotten the best out of it he could have, but he had proven himself to be working his best on both sides of the fence in bad faith (with one side of the closing being the Government of Saudi Arabia.)
Mickelson had been uncharacteristically quiet until today, when he released a lengthy apology statement accusing Shipnuck of not only posting confidential quotes, but of doing so out of context. Here is Mickelson’s statement:
Phil Mickelson released a statement regarding recent comments on the Saudi league, PGA Tour: “It was reckless, I offended people and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words.” pic.twitter.com/oeg7JQPmfu
— Brentley Romine (@BrentleyGC) February 22, 2022
Mickelson seems genuinely chastened by the whole affair, including the mention that he needs to get away from competitive golf. (It’s possible, of course, that the PGA Tour encouraged him to do so as well, formally or informally. The Tour doesn’t announce disciplinary action, so we may never officially know.) But it is not entirely contrition; finger pointing Shipnuck is particularly rich here. The point of context is nonsense; Shipnuck posted whole paragraphs of Mickelson’s thoughts on this, and it’s been a very loud rumor in golf for years now that Phil was involved in doing exactly what he said he was doing here. .
As for it being off-the-record, that would certainly be an entirely different debate unless, by any reasonable standard, it was taped.
The “off the record” part of this is completely wrong and I’ll have more to say about that shortly. https://t.co/7cogbJlneK
—Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) February 22, 2022
Shipnuck noted this in the original article as well, probably anticipating the firestorm it would create for Mickelson and possibly predicting Phil’s likely defense as well:
Mickelson has a compulsive need to be seen as the smartest guy in the room. Not once did he say our conversation was off the record or in the background or just between us or anything remotely like that. He just opened a vein.
There is no such thing as an unofficial default position.
Just a quick journalistic thought here for anyone reading this who doesn’t know: “Off The Record” is a two-way deal between reporters and the subject. A subject cannot declare something OTR after the fact or simply assume it is so without prior discussion. To continue. https://t.co/2q0uTx6Cjg
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) February 22, 2022
Even with his tail between his legs, Mickelson can’t help but blame someone else. It’s been a pretty crazy turn for Phil, after winning the PGA Championship in May, and there’s a chance we’ll learn more negative things in the near future.
What a stunning turnaround for someone who is rightfully a living legend in his sport.