Over the past few months, Phil Mickelson has faced an unprecedented level of criticism from the press, golf fans, and many of his peers on Tour for his comments supporting the “Super Golf League.” As most everyone is now aware, the Super Golf League is backed by Saudi money, specifically “PIF” (the Saudi Public Investment Fund), and the unsavory specter of Prince Salmon bin Abdulaziz, who is Chairman of PIF. When asked how he could support an endeavor connected to such people, Phil stated “while he was aware of the Kingdom’s horrible record on human rights and other crimes attributed to the prince,” he was supporting the new league for the “leverage’ it could provide for players when negotiating with the PGA Tour—specifically as applied to “Media Rights” (referring to the PGA Tour’s “obnoxious greed” in that regard). There is no question that Phil likes to speak his mind, and he will sometimes rub people the wrong way. We may also be unhappy with the choices he makes regarding his golf career. But before we pass judgement, let’s remember that actions are far more indicative of an individual’s character than words. Over the past thirty-odd years, Phil Mickelson has built a legacy of warmth, generosity, and professionalism, both on and off the golf course.
And yes, Phil is not perfect. He is a flawed human being, just like the rest of us. Everyone has heard about his affinity for games of chance, but that aspect of Phil’s personality is precisely what makes him so much fun to watch on the golf course. His critics question his sincerity, because he takes so much time signing autographs, chatting up the fans, and being such a nice guy in public, while behind the scenes he likes to break a few chops. With six major championships and fifty-seven professional wins, Phil is among the greatest players in the history of golf —he doesn’t need to curry favor with anybody. He makes the effort to connect with fans because he has genuine empathy for people, and appreciates that a few minutes of his time can mean so much to every-day folks, including the wide-eyed twelve-year-old who just watched him create a bit of magic. And make no mistake, it takes a lot of effort. The demands placed on star athletes is staggering, and there are few who make so much time for the public, or embrace it with the warmth of Phil Mickelson.
There are many stories of Phil’s financial generosity, but let’s remember just a few. After losing the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, Phil took the time to personally thank each volunteer and member of the club staff, distributing gratuities that totaled many thousands of dollars. It’s not so much the money, but the fact that he made such a heartfelt effort to show his appreciation, even while absorbing yet another crushing loss at the one championship that had eluded him. The previous year Phil won the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, and was described by Doug Steffen, the former Director of Golf at Baltusrol, as “one of the most generous men I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.” Win or lose, Phil is always Phil—and you really have to love him. In 2004 Phil and his wife, Amy, created “Birdies for the Brave,” a charitable initiative that has raised millions for wounded veterans. In 2001 tragedy struck the family of retired NFL player Conrad Dobler when his wife, Joy, suffered trauma that left her a quadriplegic, straining the family’s finances to the breaking point. Phil heard about it, and although he never met the Doblers personally, offered to help by paying the entirety of their daughter Holli’s college education. As Joy Dobler sees it, “If there’s anything missing in his life, it’s a set of wings. He’s an angel.”
We should also keep in mind that while Tiger has enjoyed the bulk of the credit for increasing golf’s popularity in recent years, Phil has done more than his share. When he won the PGA Championship in 2021, Sunday viewership was 6.5 million, a 27% increase from the prior year. And before Phil made his entrance on Tour, total purses were in the neighborhood of a million dollars, while today they exceed seven million. Perhaps the players who are so quick to jump all over Phil right now should reflect on that.
So yes, Phil made may have spoken out of turn. And he is not perfect. But I, for one, intend to give him some slack—he deserves it.