Phil Mickelson made the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit this week, but he’s not in contention for a win.
He is, however, very much in the headlines, and unlike the PGA Championship a few weeks ago, it’s not because of his play. Rather it’s because of a feud between Mickelson and Detroit News reporter Robert Snell over a gambling-related story that ran this week, timed with the PGA Tour’s stop at the Detroit Golf Club.
Mickelson went on the offensive Thursday, accusing the paper and Snell himself of essentially a character attack timed to do maximum damage, as opposed to, you know, reporting a factual story.
Phil went so far as to essentially declare he’d never be back to Detroit because of this, trying to pin any economic loss that might occur on Snell’s conscience.
.@PhilMickelson said he won't return for Detroit's Rocket Mortgage Classic. He loves the fans and what Rocket is doing in the city, but…
Mickelson said this week's Detroit News article about a 2007 incident with a Grosse Pointe bookie was "very opportunistic and selfish." pic.twitter.com/GcZ5OOONeU
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) July 1, 2021
Mickelson is no stranger to speaking without thinking, of course, or at least without thinking through all the consequences. By bringing this up the way he did he put a spotlight on the topic that would have otherwise almost certainly not resonated outside of Detroit. Sure, some golf podcasts might have made some jokes about it, but the details aren’t anything new to anyone who knows about Mickelson’s long history with gambling. (He’s come through arguably worse scandals unscathed, and has a built-in three decades of goodwill with the vast majority of golf fans and figures in the sport.
Perhaps realizing his mistake, Mickelson then spent a few days doing the worst possible thing someone can do in this moment: voraciously reading and replying on Twitter. That included responding to someone who noted a change.org petition asking him to return; he went beyond that, though, and said he would indeed come back as long as everyone who signed pledged an act of kindness. Seriously, this is what he said.
“People were awesome and they were so nice, so I would say this, I don’t want it to be divisive,” Mickelson said Friday. “I didn’t like the way that felt with the reporter. The people here were so nice that I’ll make a deal with them. There’s a guy, Mike Sullivan, trying to raise 50,000 signatures. If he gets 50,000 and all of those 50,000 agree to do one random act of kindness for another member of the community, I’m in.”
The petition had close to 5,000 signatures as of early Saturday morning.
“I just think that this tournament has sponsors, from Rocket Mortgage to a lot of local sponsors to a lot of the people in the community, that are trying to come together and do something good for the community,” Mickelson said. “And if the members of the community will come together, I’d love to be back. But what I won’t tolerate is that kind of divisive attitude from that particular reporter. It’s just not helpful to anybody in any way.”
Mickelson took to Twitter again on Saturday after offering those quotes to once again mention the reporter with an ax to grind angle that he’s convinced himself is the issue:
Usually when a neg piece is printed,I let it go,it’s gone in a day and I just don’t return.This week I called out RobSnell for a 23 year old story that he sat on for 3 years?Or a month?because his self-centered opportunism undermines many people here in Det trying to help others.
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) July 3, 2021
He also implied he’d talked to Snell about it, too, though apparently he wasn’t satisfied with the explanation.
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) July 3, 2021
This is, obviously, silly; the story was recently unearthed and of course it’s most relevant to run this week, anyway, for a Detroit paper. It’s not even really a negative story about Phil, either; everyone knows he gambles his ass off all the time already and no one cares. Gambling on sports is basically driving half of sports media right now, it feels like. No one would really bat an eye, except for Mickelson’s decision to turn it into a much bigger thing.
☝️ It hadn't been reported (they came across incidentally last month) & was locally relevant, factually accurate, not particularly negative, let alone "divisive" (???)
Basically a slightly interesting, if small story … until Phil's boorish response pic.twitter.com/wPoTOFHYhv
— @Messagist (@GolfOutsider) July 3, 2021
Mickelson’s strategy of both implying self-importantly that he’s responsible for bringing a major economic impact to Detroit AND that he’d be taking that away because of a reporter’s accurate reporting shockingly didn’t pay off for him. To his limited credit (considering his gambling history, he might be used to getting limited credit) he’s seemingly realized that and is attempting to change course.
That new course, though: tweeting through it. That’s almost never wise, and it’s certainly not here. In the end, Mickelson isn’t going to take any lasting damage from this, just like with everything else. If he somehow ends up in contention at the Open Championship in a couple of weeks he’s still going to be cheered by most observers.
But it all goes on the permanent record, and at 51, Mickelson’s record is winding down. Golfers already get away with some of the softest coverage imaginable, yet they still can’t deal with what they do get. From Bryson DeChambeau imploring networks to protect his brand and refusing to speak to the media this weekend after his caddie quit on him, to Mickelson being unable to help himself and bringing the kind of negative attention down that he’d imagined was already there to begin with, to Justin Thomas refusing to wear a microphone during a round (and then getting caught using a gay slur), to the PGA Tour DMCAing content left and right.
I like golf, more than just about anyone I know, and even I get really fucking tired of watching super rich guys pretend to be overburdened victims when they’re asked to own, explain, or even comment on their documented actions and behavior. It’s hard enough to sit through all the commercials as it is.