‘PHIL NEVER OPENS HIS MOUTH WITHOUT AN AGENDA. HE’S EXCEPTIONALLY CALCULATING’
Author Alan Shipnuck spent two years getting to know the real Phil Mickelson. What he discovered was a self-obsessed, Jekyll and Hyde character with a compulsive need for attention, gambling and competition
I went to see Phil three times face-toface and asked him if he would sit for interviews.
He ultimately said no, which was fine. I’d had so much access to Phil and the people around him through the years I didn’t really need him. The book was due December 1 and right around Thanksgiving he finally called me up. And that’s when we had that momentous phone call. I think in the final analysis, he just couldn’t help himself. Like he has said many times before, he needs to be the smartest guy in the room. It pained him for me not to know all these political battles he’d been winning and how he had masterfully played the Saudis off against the PGA Tour.
I knew in the moment that what he was saying was going to spark some controversy.
But Phil has spent his whole career talking his way out of controversy. I never imagined it would send him into this exile. But I guess like Phil, I kind of underestimated the emotion around Saudi Arabia, especially for Americans. It wasn’t so much his words, it was his actions. He was actively colluding to subvert the interests of the PGA Tour. That’s really why the players closed ranks and were so harsh in their criticism of him.
Phil never opens his mouth without an agenda.
He’s exceptionally calculating, and he’s always been that way. You saw when he threw Tom Watson under the bus in that Ryder Cup press conference. That was a calculated decision to try and create pressure on the American side to change how they do things. And, in fairness to Phil, it worked. Everything he pushed for has come true, so you’ve got to give him credit.
But then he smacked a moving ball at Shinnecock Hills in the 2018 US Open.
That was an act of petulance, but it was also Phil protesting against the USGA’S set-up. He’s fought a lot of battles through the years and most of them he hasn’t won. But the Saudis finally gave him the leverage to get a lot of things done with the Tour.
I tried to be very fair and balanced with Phil.
He’s done a lot of admirable things in his life and they’re all in the book – the philanthropy that he’s done, the random acts of kindness with fans, his mentorship of young players. I was very happy to sing his praises and celebrate his virtues. But he’s also been involved in a lot of controversy and a lot of messiness. And that’s in the book too.
Phil’s a master manipulator of the media and he’s charmed reporters, bullied them and cajoled them.
I’ve been on the wrong end of all of that. Across 30 years, I’ve seen all the different sides of Phil.
There’s a quote in the book from Charles Barkley, which is really insightful.
He says something to the effect that being around Tiger, everyone’s uptight and they feel like they’re under siege. With Phil it’s fun, you’re going to laugh. There’s something to that. I’ve always loved writing about Phil and I enjoy being in his presence because his mind and mouth are always going, so it’s never boring.
My favourite story might be the one in chapter one.
It was Nick Faldo’s 60th birthday party and his girlfriend at the time threw this big party. It was kind of a glamorous crowd and then Phil rolls up. Nick’s just sitting at a table basking in all the attention and then Phil completely takes over the room, won’t stop talking and is saying all these outrageous things. Nick Faldo’s just sinking deeper and deeper into his chair and it’s such a funny image. That one makes me laugh every time because it’s just so Phil!
I always knew he was a complex person and that he is multifaceted.
I didn’t realise how deep that runs, but I certainly do now. It’s disappointing that he impugned my professionalism by saying our interview was off the record. That’s affected my feelings towards him on some level, but I understand that he’s talked his way out of so many controversies that he thought he could do it again. I don’t really take it personally.