Phil Mickelson spoke to reporters in the United States today for the first time since his viral comments about the Saudi-backed LIV Golf venture cost him an array of sponsorship deals.
Mickelson, playing in (and so far completely overshadowing) this week’s U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, spent nearly half an hour taking questions, admonishing reporters for asking multiple questions at once, and repeating the same general stance for just about everything.
Let’s pause for a moment here to note how surreal it is that in the same press conference Phil Mickelson is opening one answer by addressing 9/11 families and beginning another by saying Boston crowds are some of the best in sports.
Mickelson press conferences have for decades been events unto themselves. No modern player has ever been more comfortable in that setting, so clearly thriving on being the center of attention, offering quotes and soundbites he knows will be eaten up by assembled media. Today, he just seemed small.
It’s tempting to point to his demeanor as being the “real” Phil, or a sign of some sort of lesson learned or chastening. You shouldn’t do that, though. Mickelson’s behavior over the past year, from admonishing a local reporter in Detroit who had the temerity to write about Phil’s checkered gambling history all the way up to taking $200 million to be the most visible face of Saudi Arabia’s sportswashing effort, has exposed that Phil’s prior persona was calculated at best.
Who’s to say today’s listless, logo-less performance in which he danced around any of the hard answers is any more real? There’s no need to feel pity for someone criticized for taking $200 million, first and foremost. But once again, Mickelson opened a presser by mentioning his family and his gambling habits, a pattern during Phil’s damage control efforts as he returns to play.
Sincere or not (and it reads much more like an effort to create a redemptive arc, which some in golf media will no doubt be too eager to offer him), family closeness and an effort to recover from a gambling problem have nothing to do with why anyone is mad at Phil right now.
It just all comes off as fake. We’ve all seen too much to go back to pretending Phil is anything other than who he’s shown us to be in the moments he’s lifted the curtain over the past year. Today’s performance, really, can be taken as intentionally bland in an effort to get media to stop asking these questions.
It’s already working on some folks:
Re/Phil…at this point what else is there to say? He's going for the $$$, we know he's going for the $$$, and he knows that we know that he's going for the $$$. Same is true for all the LIV guys. Nothing's gonna trigger a come to Jesus moment. Approaching dead-horse territory.
— Dan Rapaport (@Daniel_Rapaport) June 13, 2022
Phil just wants to have his $200 million and not suffer any more consequences. If anything, he wants to go back to how it was before; playing the majors, playing any PGA Tour event he wants, fielding softball questions about whether he can win a career grand slam. That’s not the same as contrition. If anything, it’s the opposite.
Hopefully, given the moral questions involved, the media doesn’t let him (or Bryson DeChambeau, or Patrick Reed, or Dustin Johnson) do that.