‘Phil speaks for Phil': Players at Riviera react to Mickelson’s latest controversial comments
LOS ANGELES – Phil Mickelson has become more comfortable pushing boundaries and questioning authority in recent months, but even by those outspoken standards this was a dramatic escalation.
In an interview that occurred last November with golf writer and novelist Alan Shipnuck, the left-hander calls out PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan (“As nice a guy as [Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right,” Mickelson said.), the Saudis (‘They’re scary motherf---ers to get involved with,” he said.), and the Tour (“If the Tour doesn’t do the right thing, there is a high likelihood it’s [the Super Golf League] going to happen,” he said.).
The wide-ranging interview was for Shipnuck’s upcoming book “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar,” but was posted ahead of publication on the website firepitcollective.com.
Although Mickelson’s criticism of the Tour and Monahan is nothing new – he went after what he called the Tour’s “obnoxious greed” in a recent interview with Golf Digest – his take on the Saudi regime was a surprise given his association with the long-rumored super league, which is being backed by the Saudi public wealth fund. In the Shipnuck interview, Mickelson acknowledged the downside of being involved with the oppressive Saudi government but makes his case for why he is still interested in playing the super league.
“We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay,” Mickelson explained. “Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse.”
Mickelson saying outrageous things is nothing new to Tour players, but this time he seemed to step over the line, according to some of his fellow players.
“Seems like a bit of a pretty, you know, egotistical statement,” said Justin Thomas, who hadn’t read the story by Shipnuck, when told some of Mickelson’s comments. “It’s like he’s done a lot of great things for the PGA Tour - it’s a big reason it is where it is - but him and others that are very adamant about that, if they’re that passionate, go ahead [to the super league]. I don’t think anybody’s stopping them.”
Joel Dahmen, who is an occasional practice-round partner of Mickelson’s, had also not read the story but wasn’t surprised when told the general idea of his comments.
“I think Phil speaks for Phil. Has he said some brilliant things through the years? Sure. Has he said some not-so-brilliant things? I think that’s true. But Phil doesn’t speak for us and he doesn’t speak for me,” Dahmen said.
“This game has given him so much and the Tour has given him so much and he’s fighting back now at 51 years old. It kind of seems like a weird spot, but it seems like Phil is so deep into this and knows so much behind the scenes so maybe he’s coming from a place that’s true. Maybe the Tour has been screwing us the whole time. But it seems to me I’m doing just fine.”
The growing rift on Tour between those who plan to remain loyal to the U.S. circuit and those who appear to have an interest in the super league has grown exponentially in recent days and both sides lament a lack of clear facts. On this front, Mickelson’s outspoken ways do have an appeal.
“I think people are speaking on behalf of Tour players, in general, without any data whatsoever and I feel worse for those people than Phil, because he actually has the information,” said Jason Kokrak, who also had not read the article. “I think Phil has a better grasp on some things than other players. The players that don’t have the knowledge of what’s going on and they’re just speaking on their personal beliefs, then that’s their fault.”
Kokrak is sponsored by Golf Saudi and said he’s been in conversations with super-league officials, but added he’s focused on this week’s event at Riviera Country Club and not what might happen in the future.
“Certain guys are trying to leverage that [the threat of a rival tour]. I think the Tour has done some things over the years that are less than average,” Kokrak said. “People are going to leverage to make more money … There’s things that I agree and disagree with the Saudis and there are things that I agree and disagree with the PGA Tour.”
Mickelson’s absence this week at the Genesis Invitational, which he’s won twice and is a relatively short hop from his home in Rancho Santa Fe, California, has been noticed, as was his decision to skip the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he’s a five-time winner. There’s speculation that he’s sitting out the West Coast events, where he has had so much success, in a kind of protest to the Tour polices he doesn’t like.
“I asked the question this morning to another player, why didn’t [Mickelson] play Phoenix and why is he not playing here. He’s never missed these. I’m surprised he didn’t play,” said Pat Perez, who hadn’t read the article. “I know Phil’s got a lot of stress in life right now and I don’t know what he’s doing. I know he’s not speaking for me and, you know, I actually really don’t care what he has to say about anything because I just don’t. He doesn’t speak for me.”
Mickelson’s increasingly outspoken and unpredictable comments aside, he’s still a voice that carries in golf, which makes his most recent comments even more surprising.
“After the PGA [Championship] last year, it felt like the peak of Phil,” Dahmen said. “To twist it this way … I don’t know, maybe I’ll make him buy me a big bottle of wine and we can sit down and he can tell me all the secrets.”