Els Centre for Autism

Great article from Golf Journal about the Els Centre for Autism

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The Phil Mickelson Book

I’ve just spent $39.99 and had eight hours on and off listening to the audio version of Alan Shipnuck’s biography Phil The Rip Roaring (and Unauthorised) Biography of Golf’s Most Colourful Superstar and I’ve come away feeling exhausted and grubby.

As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, every year another drama with Phil Mickelson. This book has brought it all to a shattering crescendo. Not only is the content shocking in parts, the whole range of the dramas are set out showing a pattern of behaviour that hasn’t been seen before by fans. All of this is a huge wake up call for everyone.

As of now we don’t know whether Mickelson will tee up at the first Saudi backed LIV tournament near London next week or whether he’ll return at the US Open or what his next move will be. I have long suspected he will walk away from the game and go straight into politics. That or come over here and do pantomime. Baron Hardup. Now there’s a role.

The shocking fact of Mickelson’s accrual of $40 million gambling debts over four years was released to the public before the book was published.  This shows Shipnuck’s vigour as a journalist that he found out about this through the financial forensics that were carried out when Mickelson was a relief defendant in an insider trading lawsuit. He also writes in a fair and balanced way. It’s just that some of the content has such a smell around it. He gives equal attention to Mickelson’s huge talent as a golfer, his victories, his random and generous acts of kindness and the writes about his family with respect. The book is also entertaining and light in other parts.

But I do wonder whether it is personal.

The book begins with an altercation between Mickelson and the writer at the 1999 PGA and Mickelson says

“you’re not a writer that I respect”. 

We hear several stories (two Ryder Cup captains in particular) of people who have been wounded for many years after by Mickelson’s actions and spiteful tongue. We are told that Mickelson was “scared as shit” about the book coming out and that his agent approached Shipnuck a number of times about becoming their employee, all of which he rejected.

The relative silence on social media since the book came out is noticeable. It was sold out on Amazon last week. Perhaps readers are still processing that things appeared to be one way, but were in fact another.

The pre-publication release of the remarks about the Saudi Golf League which caused so much controversy led to Mickelson sending out a statement in which he said the remarks he made were off the record. Even if this were so, why pick up the phone and tell the journalist writing a book about you? A story is recounted about Mickelson leering at a female golf fan and remarking that she was “hot” and then remarking to golf writer John Feinstein who overheard “that’s off the record, right?” Clearly he does know what off the record means. 

The only explanation for him actively picking up the phone and shooting his opinions to a journalist he is apparently scared of is that he is extremely self destructive subconsciously. It’s no wonder that Alan Shipnuck ran with such information and is making huge sales of his book.

Before I mention things I’ve noted about the murkier parts of the book, I must say that I felt there was something odd about the way Mickelson’s personal life was treated.

Compared to the driving edginess of the rest of the book, this was saccharine. Amy Mickelson is portrayed almost like a Disney character. She reminds me of Ella in the movie Enchanted. Bearing in mind Mickelson’s previous girlfriend was objectified  – Tana Rae Figueres’ breasts were apparently so big her male college teammates wondered how she could swing a golf club round them… With Amy and Phil I wondered if there are any adults in the room? As the person nearest to him, she doesn’t seem to stand up to him, keep him grounded or stop him from making so many huge mistakes. Why didn’t she or his caddie (who is his brother) tell him he was making a mistake to prevent him from getting so entangled with the Saudi Golf League? “Our gang” of close confidants and professional advisors – none of them seem to have done him any favours.

Shipnuck let another stink bomb drop through his website Fire Pit Collective 

Before the book was published he said he was in possession of information that would have been the most explosive part of the book, but he elected not to put it in because it was highly personal and would cause pain to too many people. That got people speculating. It may be that that could be keeping Mickelson away from golf so long – the part of his statement released in Feburary which says that he desperately needs to spend time with and prioritise those he cared about most. 

Perhaps he is thinking through all this because Shipnuck calls him a family man dogged by salacious rumours. We don’t know anything about this yet. But I can only observe first hand that he is certainly not very confident around women and so makes childish remarks. I was at the Walker Cup matches at Portmarnock Ireland when the furore over his “That’s not the place to hit it, the Irish women aren’t that attractive” erupted. I thought “pot kettle black, look in the mirror luv.” He may have been six foot three but he looked no athlete. Huge pot belly, oily slicked back hair and pimples about to erupt.  But worse, after turning pro he came over here for a tournament and I heard him say this about a young female spectator who was in the gallery at the same time as his wife. 

“She’s jealous. That means I’m going to get what I want” (i.e. sex). 

Disrespectful all round. To the young woman involved but also to his wife who was in the gallery as it was spoken.

I found the descriptions of his compulsive eating e.g. 9 Taco Bells in a minute – quite telling. Alongside the obscene amount of money that he has lost gambling (he was apparently checking scores of football matches he had bets on during a Presidents Cup match) I wondered if this was his way of coping with stress. His weird coffee diet could not have been good for him, that amount of caffeine would have led to serious mood swings. 

But unstable metabolism and poor diet apart many of his difficulties do clearly come from his personality. He is above all a talker and enjoys verbal sword fights where he can come off as superior. Yet for all this articulacy, he also communicates in the most neanderthal way. His reported speech in the book is littered with profanity. He also seems to enjoy spiteful trash talk, covering it up as banter. One of his professional friends explained “he’s just Phil being Phil”. But that is not good enough. What is clear is that he really hurts people and no amount of fan interaction, guerning for the cameras or getting the missus to sigh “oh Philip” as she stands on tippy toes to snatch a kiss between the green and the tee, can compensate for this. 

Shipnuck observes that it was a strategic move for Phil to entertain the fans so that he would come off more likeable compared to the mechanical, solitary and foul mouthed Tiger Woods. But what the fans didn’t know was that Mickelson is equally as foul mouthed . “Total phony” observed Steve Elkington.

The split between Mickelson and his caddie of 25 years Jim “Bones” McKay is one of the most interesting parts of the book because it was Bones who fired Phil, three weeks before a public announcement. At the root of this was financial – he was owed over $900,000 in pay. They got weird and wouldn’t look at each other. Clearly, there were financial problems at the root of it all, even though Mickelson’s earnings were supposedly around $80 million a year before he lost his sponsors.

His verbal attacks on two Ryder Cup captains Hal Sutton and Tom Watson are examined even though he did say to Sutton “I am so so sorry” afterwards. He apologises after the damage has been done and he has shot his mouth off. I remember watching the final American team conference at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and being astonished at the disrespect towards then 65 year old Tom Watson. Shipnuck explains this further that there had been tension between them all week which could have got physical. But in this instance at least something good came out of bad – the American Ryder Cup Task Force which examined what was going wrong and put new strategies in place which have led to two US wins since that showdown in 2014. 

Although in that instance Mickelson was the catalyst for change, it’s now very unlikely that he will ever be Ryder Cup captain himself. It was known that he had been ear marked for the matches at Bethpage Black in New York in three years time and apparently veteran Fred Couples may now fill the gap.

I found it shocking that he had turned down the Bob Jones Award apparently remarking that the USGA could shove it up their arses. His feud with the United States Golf Association reached a peak on hole 13 of the final round of the 2018 US Open when he played hockey back and forward across the hole with his putter. This got him a lot of media attention (which he seems to crave) but very little in the way of discipline. It was an indicator of his anger towards the way he felt courses had been tricked up at the national championship. The one he has never one but feels he should have won more than anything else.

The parts of the book that made me feel unwashed were the stories about who he has been associating with. When Mickelson’s former gambling friend Billy Walters’ own book comes out in the Autumn, this is going to be another revelation. According to Shipnuck he and Mickelson were like brothers. But Walters went to prison for insider trading wheras Phil avoided it on a legal technicality which has since been overturned. Other associates have connections to the Russian mafia, have been involved in racketeering , are compulsive gamblers or bookmakers and then there are his connections to the Saudi regime who he calls “scary motherfuckers”. Perhaps he is just an adrenaline junkie who likes to live on the edge and mess with all this. No wonder his car has armoured doors and bullet proof glass. But messing at the cost of losing everything, his legacy of an illustrious 30 year career?

As someone on twitter said “Phil, you’re in a pickle mate”.

I listened to the audiobook right to the end of the credits. And there amongst the credits was this throwaway comment from Alan Shipnuck:

“I wish that I had got a chance to ask him about his belief in astrology”.

Well let me help you out there. Helpfully the book gives Mickelson’s birth time on June 16 1970.

Aha. Double Scorpio. 

Sun and mercury in Gemini (compulsive talker) but with the moon and ascendant both in Scorpio.

Scorpio – dark, secretive and most of all capable of being extremely spiteful. And a double dose of it. That seems to tally with everything exposed in the book. He likes the dark side even though the outside world sees the opposite, the grinning all American hero.

 Ah yes,  Double Gemini – the sign of two faces. But unlike golf writer John Hopkins I don’t think there are two Phils (or even that he’s been cloned). I think there is one integrated Phil. But he needs to see the overall picture.

And that’s what you spend $39.99 for.

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Dustin Johnson surprise competitor at first LIV event in London

No Phil Mickelson -yet – but amongst the 42 names announced as competitors for the first LIV event in London next week is former World Number One Dustin Johnson.

Dustin had long been linked to the Saudi backed LIV group but did a U turn in February when he gave a statement saying that he was fully committed to the PGA Tour. Although he has said that he has ” no issues” with the tour, his agent said late yesterday that the invitation to play on the new LIV tour was

” in his family’s best interest to pursue it, it was too compelling to pass up”.

Well he has just had a very expensive wedding… but his wife Paulina has $5 million in her own right, his father in law Wayne Gretzky has $250 million and Dustin has already accumulated $74 million in official earnings.

I have an open mind about LIV, and am looking forward to going to the tournament next week. Particularly with major champions Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel playing. But it does look as though this is all heading to court to decide whether professional golfers really are independent contractors or whether they are legally, as well as duty, bound to pledge allegiance to their tours. So far the DP World tour has provided the majority of the field, but with six places to fill before next Thursday, anything can happen.

Let’s hope Mickelson makes a last minute decision to come out of exile somewhere soon. But it’s either this or the US Open, and with his record there coming to London might be the easier option.

Here are the first 42 competitors announced

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Remembering Charlie Sifford on his 100th birthday

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How the “greatest American Ryder Cup team” managed to pull off a huge win

Well, no-one expected that.

It was an unexpectedly brilliant, dominant performance by the American side. Almost across the board, the produced some dazzling, confident, defiant golf. No one who loves golf, no matter whose side they are on, had to acknowledge that they were witnessing something very special.

But how did this all come together so perfectly for the Americans?

“We hate to lose” answered one of their players. And their Ryder Cup teams had lost – a lot.  So the fear of failure was a huge motivator.

I think the “changing of the guard” was a big factor. And it’s not just about the youth of the side and the fact that six young rookies hadn’t been battle scarred by previous Ryder Cup failures. 

No, I think Tiger Woods has had a lot to do with the whole picture.

Tiger was such a dominant presence in American golf for so long, and won so often, that he took away opportunities for many more players to experience winning. As good as he was for the game, he was also bad for American golf in that he stopped it growing outside of himself. 

These fresh young Americans are winning in the post-Woods era and they are winning majors that he would otherwise have claimed if he had continued his dominance. Would the exceptional Collin Morikawa have come through? It’s doubtful.

This generation have grown up competing against each other in college and know each other and each others’ games inside out. There is already more of a bond. Woods own record in Ryder Cup isn’t stellar and although he has tried to be much more involved of late, earlier he wasn’t much of a team player. The difference in this team at Whistling Straights was it gelled together better, under their famous pod system of practice.

Steve Stricker was a calm and serene figure at the matches, keeping humour and order even downplaying the tedious feud between Brooks and Bryson. Of his vice captains, current major champion Mickelson was hands on involved with every match, visibly present and supportive. I’m expecting him to take the helm at the match in Rome. He had an Italian grandparent and will feel an emotional attachment to this particular match. And there’s the motivation of winning the cup again on foreign soil for the first time in thirty years.

The environment at Whistling Straits was also a big factor. Padraig Harrington said that he and Steve Stricker had discussed the matches going ahead without fans and decided not. It would, under the circumstances, have been considerably fairer to the European team if this Ryder Cup had been played without fans, as it was almost impossible for European fans to attend. The handful that I saw were ex-pats and the so called “Guardians of the Ryder Cup” eight vocal European supporters and social media stars, who are sponsored by Your Golf Travel, who somehow made it to America. 

I watched most of the matches with the sound turned off. The negative partisan moaning and dramatics of the commentary team were grating. Repeatedly stating the obvious, from Saturday onwards, that it’s going to take a miracle. But I also turned the sound off because the booing and abuse of the European players was disgusting. We’ve come to expect this. It began at Kiawah Island in 1991 and has exploded into something so hostile and intimidatory that the away team get ground down psychologically. If the fans are the thirteenth man on the team, then the American team’s version is a jingoistic nightmare. The throwing down of beers to Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who were sat out from the fourballs, while they were on the tee and them swigging them (they appeared to be drinking a Vodka mix rather than beer) wasn’t a great moment.

Neither was Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger’s vulgar language to the rules official who wouldn’t give Brooks relief from a drain on the 15th hole of their foursomes match. As one American commentator, who called it ‘pathetic’, it was a wonder that they weren’t docked a hole under rule 1.2a – serious misconduct.

Something needs to be addressed about abusing rules officials and the crowd abusing players in these matches, if the new era is about to dawn with the American side fully engaged in winning the Ryder Cup.

 We’ve become accustomed to some American players turning up, donning the uniform and doing their own thing, and expecting that to work. So often  the Americans seemed to be playing as individuals in a team competition. There’s also seemed to be a lack lustre lack of commitment and some nasty in fighting within some of their teams that has been aired publicly. 

This was so bad after the 2014 matches that the Americans set up a Ryder Cup taskforce. And it’s taken seven years for us to see the outcome. But more work needs to be done, on both sides, to make the competition fairer. That starts and ends with everyone’s behaviour.

Were the Europeans ‘humiliated’? No, I think that’s too strong. They were outplayed, but also they were sabotaged by a hostile crowd of home fans who got to them psychologically with their repetative neanderthal chanting. No wit, no originality, no charm. 

Did Padraig Harrington make some mistakes? He probably could have played Lowry more and rested McIlroy. Was he wrong to choose Poulter as a captain’s pick? No, not on the basis of his current statistics, and his record, he was playing well going in. Where Harrington did go wrong was limiting himself to three picks, when the other team had six. 

But should his own record be tarnished by this? Definitely not. He won three majors in 13 months! It was most interesting to see how dignified he was on Sunday after the match had been won, and how it was Jim Furyk, the losing American Captain at the Paris Ryder Cup, stayed with him and talked to him at length. It reminded me of 1995 when Bernard Gallacher spoke for losing American captain Lanny Wadkins, ‘let me help you out here Lanny, because I know just how you feel’.

I don’t think there will be a massive post-mortem on the European side over this, they still have a tried and tested winning formula and most of all a team full of pride and heart. But – the focus needs to be more on nurturing younger, more fearless talent coming through and giving them a blooding as Viktor Hovland did so well. Multiple winners Nicolai and Rasmus Hojgaard and Bob McIntyre immediately come to mind. 

But of wider importance, I wonder where we exactly where we will all be placed in two years time. The so called “strategic alliance” of the PGA Tour and the European Tour could have a knock on effect on the Ryder Cup. This concerns me, as this seems to be getting much more serious. Mens professional golf  is in the process of profound change and things are not going to stay the same for much longer. 

To see the devastation, upset and tears of the European players was to know how genuinely they care about this competition. It cannot be watered down into a world team event, the place for that is in the Olympics.

No, the Ryder Cup must continue as it is, but we have entered a completely new era now, and everyone must get focussed.

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Conor Moore and the Ryder Cup teams

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As shown in the European Ryder Cup team room

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European Team travelling to the Ryder Cup

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Rory McIlroy heads to the Tokyo Olympics with interesting expectations

Each to their own. Some golfers, like Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose are excited about Olympic golf, wheras Rory McIlroy is much more relaxed about the whole thing.

After the Open Championship Rory said this to the press about playing for Ireland in the games.

“I am doing it becuse it is the right thing to di and I missed it last time. For golf to be an Olympic sport you need your best players there and I want to represent the game of golf more than anything else.

“I don’t know there’s much to look forward to. It’s obviously going to be a very different environment. I’m looking forward to getting another week’s golf in and trying to get my game in shape. As I said there’s not much else to do there”.

So there’s not a lot of patriotism involved, but if he were to win the Olympic gold medal something might shift. Perhaps it is because as an Ulsterman, he’s acually British, but has chosen to represent Ireland. At this stage in his life and career, the bigger picture -apart from representing the game of golf- doesn’t seem to loom large, he said not so long ago that his job wasn’t to encourage participation or growing the game. Perhaps it is because he is happily settled in America and that’s where his focus is.

But a good performance this week could change all that.

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While We’re Young slow play golf commercial starring Clint Eastwood and Arnold Palmer

Apart from be the ball, while we’re young was one of the catchphrases of Caddyshack. This spawned a series of golf commercials in America from the USGA to encourage golfers to get on with it. This one has Clint Eastwood playing Pebble Beach.

In this interesting intiative from 2013 the USGA were showing leadership to identify the root causes of slow play, Things like playing from the wrong tees, but also mistakes in how the course is set up – rough too high, overly tricky pin positions, greens too fast. The golfer themself is not solely to blame.

The initiative will be introduced in five different 30-second PSA spots starring Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer and Clint Eastwood. Each spot reinforces the playfulness of “While We’re Young” and pinpoints aspects of the game that contribute to slow play, while also inviting golfers to make a personal pledge to combat slow play at www.usga.org/whilewereyoung.

“The whole concept of the campaign if that we’re in this together,” added Nager, who is in his second year as USGA president. “It’s not just your own behavior you’re accountable for, it’s the behavior of the people you’re playing with. So we’ve tried to give people a fun, non-threatening vehicle to say to fellow players, ‘You need to pick it up,’ and to say to their course managers and club professionals, ‘We want to play this game faster. Set [the course] up so we can do so.’ “

Though cursory on the surface, the campaign is based on extensive research of mathematical and scientific principles that have helped the USGA to better understand the flow of players across a golf course.

It’s time for this to be rolled out again, as 8 years on the problem still persists.

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