That nice Phil Mickelson…

Thought for the Day
The starting point of all achievement is desire

Open mouth, change feet
For some while now I have been re-assessing my opinion of Phil Mickelson. Not as a golfer because he is, without doubt, the second greatest player of his generation and capable of shots that not even Tiger Woods could achieve.

On top of this huge talent was the smiling, upbeat gallery favourite who reminded us of Arnold Palmer, in the gracious way in which he acceded to as many fan requests as possible – often spending an hour of more signing autographs and posing for pictures.

He could make the odd gaffe, such as the time he competed in the Walker Cup as an amateur at Portmarnock. One of his drives went close to the galleries and it was suggested that this would give him the opportunity to get acquainted with some of the local young women. His reply that: ‘They’re not that attractive’ lost him a bit of local support but was quickly written off as a rash mistake by a young man not used to media scrutiny.

But then, in the wake of America’s Ryder Cup defeat at Gleneagles in the 2014 Ryder Cup, he trashed his captain, that dignified exemplar of sportsmanship that is Tom Watson. Phil didn’t mention Watson by name, he didn’t need to. Instead, he enthusiastically praised the efforts of Paul Azinger, the last American captain to taste victory, in what was clearly an unflattering comparison. Such criticism, if it must be made, should always be in private, not at a press conference open to the world.

Worse even than this, to my mind, was his behaviour at the 2018 US Open. The Shinnecock Hills venue had been set up by the USGA in its usual fit of masochism, with greens so fast that even the best in the world were humiliated. On the 13th in the third round, Phil hit a putt that was rolling off the green, ran after it and hit it again while it was still moving. It was a blatant breach of the rules in an effort to gain an advantage which, in my book is cheating, pure and simple.

But his behaviour in the immediate aftermath was even more revealing. At first he smugly tried to claim credit for his in-depth knowledge of the rules, suggesting that his critics needed to grow up. After a few days he messaged a select group of journalists to say, in part: ‘I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.’

Fair enough. Benefit of the doubt and all that, and when someone appears seriously contrite you accept the apology and move on.

Except… Except that his underhanded, Machiavellian dealings with the Saudi-Arabian backed LIV Golf Investments (LGI) proposed league have demonstrated him to be untrustworthy, greedy beyond measure and nowhere near as smart as he likes to think. At root is the fact that the PGA Tour, through which he has become staggeringly rich in two decades at the top of his sport, retains media rights of the players. When a golfer joins the Tour he signs over media rights. The Tour uses the rights of all players to negotiate deals with broadcasters and generate other marketing opportunities. It is the model used by virtually every major sporting franchise but despite this, Mickelson accused the Tour of ‘obnoxious greed.’

To strengthen his bargaining hand with the Tour, he let it be widely assumed that he was tempted to jump ship and join the LGI which, if he committed to it, would have landed a major publicity coup. Now we learn that he had no intention of joining, describing the Saudis as ‘Scary motherfuckers’ who hang people for being gay and admitted that it would be worth seeming to commit to them if it would change the PGA Tour. He was trying to play both ends against the middle, once again demonstrating that he just isn’t bright enough to pull off such antics.

His inflammatory remarks were recorded by journalist Alan Shipnuck and in the way of embarrassed celebrities the world over Mickelson then claimed his remarks were taken out of context and were off the record. ‘There is the problem of off record comments being shared out of context and without my consent,’ he said.

Shipnuck responded: ‘Not once did he say our conversation was off-the-record or on background or just between us or anything remotely like that. He simply opened a vein.’ Someone as media-savvy as Mickelson would know the convention that if something is off-the-record, you say so clearly before speaking.

Of course, we now have yet another ‘sincere’ apology from the man at the centre of a shitstorm entirely of his own making with the words: ‘But the bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions.’ How many times can you say something that doesn’t reflect what you think?

Long-time sponsors are falling over themselves in their efforts to sever connections with Phil. Companies like KPMG, Workday and Amstel Light have already gone. Club supplier Callaway is considering its position but what they need to consider is uncertain – Mickelson has been caught with his pants down and been proven to be conniving, scheming and untrustworthy.

Rarely has a fall from grace been so precipitous or, frankly, deserved.

Quote of the Week
You can hit your shots great and still shoot 80 every day because of poor management. The shots are 30% of the game. Judgment is 70%
Ben Hogan

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