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.