Phil Mickelson’s diet these days appears to consist of coffee and low-hanging fruit.
And it’s turning into quite a feast.
The early summer months on the PGA Tour should be on the sleepy side as players recharge from the U.S. Open during a three-week window before the British Open, and it gets even more crowded for the Olympians.
The Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit came roaring to life long before Cam Davis of Australia won a five-hole playoff.
It started the day Mickelson arrived to play the tournament for the first time.
The Detroit News ran a story from a 2007 racketeering trial in which a mob-connected bookie testified he never paid Mickelson $500,000 in bets that were placed well before Lefty ever won a major. Now he has six majors, most recently the PGA Championship at age 50.
The trial transcript didn’t appear in court files until 2018.
The News said the tangential Mickelson mention — he was not part of the investigation or accused of any wrongdoing — was discovered only a month ago. That was a few weeks after the Rocket Mortgage Classic announced that Mickelson would be playing.
What irritated Mickelson, no stranger to scrutiny, was the timing of a story he felt was meant to embarrass him. He felt it was “opportunistic.” Click bait. And he had a right to feel that way.
But the ultimate pin-seeker went on an attack like never before against the media, a popular target in today’s climate. He rallied his supporters in interviews and with a string of tweets blasting lack of accountability and divisiveness.
Much like having a five-shot lead on the back nine at Kiawah Island, he couldn’t lose.
But it was no less bizarre.
The story was local in nature, behind a paywall for days, and likely wouldn’t have had any traction until Mickelson and one of his attorneys gave it a fresh set of tires. Mickelson linked to sports betting is as newsworthy as dog bites man.
In the process, he dragged the tournament into the drama by threatening not to return one day, praising the fans and the city the next day and offering to return if 50,000 people signed a petition and pledged a random act of kindness to someone in the community. (As of Tuesday, the petition had around 12,000 signatures).
For whatever reason, Phil had his fill.
He has been subjected to critical coverage nearly as long as he has been on tour. For his involvement in an insider trading case that led him to repay nearly $1 million. For his threat to leave his native California because of taxes. For hitting a moving ball on the green at Shinnecock Hills in the U.S. Open.
He has been the subject of glowing coverage for just as long that goes beyond his six majors. For the $100 tips at lemonade stands. For paying for the college education of former NFL player Conrad Dobler’s daughter upon hearing that Dobler’s wife had become a quadriplegic. For college scholarships for children of fallen soldiers.
According to the trial testimony, Mickelson was cheated out of $500,000. According to his Twitter feed, he felt even more cheated by the newspaper.
“I got stiffed out of 500k 20 years ago? I don’t give a $&@ about that,” he huffed in one of his replies on Twitter. “These writers hurt the community when they alienate those who are bringing everyone together. The players, sponsors, volunteers, charities all lose. The players stop coming, don’t help the charities, & sponsors leave.”
Mickelson — the biggest name at Detroit Golf Club — was little more than a name in the trial proceedings. He was the victim. And then he went out of his way to make himself a victim of the media. It’s an easy ploy to get fans on his side, which he doesn’t even need as one of the most popular players in the game.
The guy who once employed a 64-degree wedge, who broke out a driver that reacted more like a 2-wood at the PGA Championship, found a new weapon in Detroit: Twitter.
“I’ve always used it as like entertainment, trying to put out funny little clips here or there,” Mickelson said. “When some stuff happened this week, it was nice to have a voice.”
He left with a tie for 74th, but not before he donated $100,000 to the Detroit Children’s Foundation. “I enjoyed my time here,” he said.
Will he be back? Odds are, the Rocket Mortgage Classic will survive without him.
Mickelson should be enjoying this extended twilight of a marvelous career. He is fit as ever, courtesy of his coffee diet he began two years ago.
He’s in the conversation for the Ryder Cup at age 51, though he likely needs at least one more big week. He has only one finish in the top 20 this year, and it was as big as it gets because it made him golf’s oldest champion.
A week after the PGA Championship, he went to Colonial and opened with a 73. Asked about his round, Mickelson said: “I didn’t play well. I shot 3 over. But I won the PGA.
That feeling should have lasted the rest of the year, if not longer.
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