Billy Walters clarifies controversial Phil Mickelson passage, Ryder Cup call
Sure, there were eye-popping numbers: $100 million in losses and $1 billion in bets, but Mickelson’s betting units are mostly his own business. Where things crossed over into the competitive golf sphere was in an incident Walters recounted from the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.
It was that week that he says Mickelson called him looking to place a $400,000 bet on the U.S. Ryder Cup team to win. By Walters’ telling, he informed Mickelson he wanted nothing to do with the bet and that he should reconsider. But the allegation understandably sent the golf world frothing. A Ryder Cupper betting on the Ryder Cup? That seemed like a big deal.
But on the internet and in the modern social media world it’s easy for details, nuance and facts to get lost in the shuffle. And so it’s worth pointing out that while it’s a big deal for a Ryder Cupper to express a desire to bet on the Ryder Cup, there’s also a significant difference between expressing that desire and actually acting on it. There’s a big difference between considering a bet and actually making it.
Enter Walters, who recalled and clarified his interaction with Mickelson in an appearance on the No Laying Up podcast this week.
“I couldn’t believe it. By that time — I’d known him for a period of time, and up until that time there had never even remotely been any kind of discussion about betting on golf, anybody else betting on golf or anything else,” Walters said. “It’s obvious for anyone to see Phil gets pretty excited about things and he gets pretty charged up and he can get pretty high or pretty low. So he’s up at the Ryder Cup at Medinah, he calls me up, he wants to bet $400,000 on the U.S. team to win the Ryder Cup.”
Walters couldn’t believe it.
“I said, ‘Man, have you lost your mind?’ Actually, I used a few explicit words. And I said, ‘Don’t you know what happened to Pete Rose?’ I said, ‘You’re going to be a modern-day Arnold Palmer.’ I said, ‘Don’t even — I don’t want any part of it.’
But Walters also doesn’t have any reason to believe Mickelson found another avenue to place the wager.
“He said ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ And I’m fairly confident he came to his senses and he probably never made the bet. I didn’t say he ever made the bet, I just said he called me and attempted to make the bet. He just probably got carried away with the moment, he was so sure they were going to win — but I don’t think he was thinking when he called me. Because the ramifications, if I did that for him and it could have ever been proven, his career would have been over.”
In other words, Walters wants two things clear:
1. Mickelson made the call
2. He thinks he probably never made the bet
“I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, I think it was just an error in judgment. I think he got excited,” Walters said. “But it happened. There’s no question that it happened. It’s the truth. But before then or after then I’ve never, ever seen — he never mentioned to me about betting a nickel on golf other than betting on himself on the golf course in a man-to-man bet.”
The allegations caused enough of a swirl that Mickelson himself issued a response via social media. The statement was worded in a way that didn’t confirm nor deny the phone call but did deny the placement of an actual wager.
In other words, their stories line up.
“I never bet on the Ryder Cup,” Mickelson wrote on Twitter. “While it is well known that I always enjoy a friendly wager on the course, I would never undermine the integrity of the game.
“I have also been very open about my gambling addiction,” he added. “I have previously conveyed my remorse, took responsibility, have gotten help, have been fully committed to therapy that has positively impacted me and I feel good about where I am now.”
Walters said he would have responded differently — and, in his mind, more transparently — if he were Mickelson.
“We’re all cut out of a different cut of cloth, but I don’t understand that,” Walters said. “Instead of saying I never bet on golf, I know what I’d have said: ‘Look, I called. I was excited. It was a mistake, I never did it before, I never did it since.’
“But everybody answers things differently. And he answered it correctly in his press release: ‘I never bet on it.’ And I never said he bet on it.”
You can listen to the rest of the podcast here for more from Walters on his relationship with Mickelson and on his lifetime as a sports gambler.