Phil Mickelson’s months-long absence from the public eye left a vacuum that was quickly filled with stories and speculation.
There were excerpts from Alan Shipnuck’s biography of Mickelson that revealed Mickelson’s mixed feelings about the Saudis backing the LIV League. Soon thereafter, there were references to massive gambling losses. The excerpts fueled the absence, and the absence fueled the speculation, and over time, as Mickelson missed the Masters and then his title defense at the PGA, we started to wonder what was really going on.
Now we know. Sort of.
On Monday, Mickelson reemerged on social media and announced his intentions to play the LIV series. He released a statement that included a general apology (to “many people I offended and hurt with my comments”) and emphasized the contentment he’d found at home with family in recent months. That sentiment served as the introduction to his LIV commitment, which he said has given him a “renewed spirit and excitement for the game.”
He also gave an interview to Sports Illustrated‘s Bob Harig. In the interview, he revealed his intentions to play all eight LIV events in 2022 as well as the remaining majors (the U.S. Open and Open Championship). He stayed big picture with his regrets, referencing “a lot of mistakes” without getting into specifics. He brushed quickly past the concerns his critics have about partnering up with the Saudi Arabian government, which is funding LIV. But there was one area in which he volunteered freely: his own gambling past.
Harig asked Mickelson if his decision to play LIV (and receive a reported nine-figure deal to do so) came as a result of “financial difficulties.” Mickelson said it hadn’t — but he went out of his way to acknowledge that he’d struggled with gambling and addiction nonetheless.
“My gambling got to a point of being reckless and embarrassing,” he said. “I had to address it. And I’ve been addressing it for a number of years. And for hundreds of hours of therapy. I feel good where I’m at there. My family and I are and have been financially secure for some time.
“Gambling has been part of my life ever since I can remember,” he added. “But about a decade ago is when I would say it became reckless. It’s embarrassing. I don’t like that people know. The fact is I’ve been dealing with it for some time. Amy has been very supportive of it and with me and the process. We’re at a place after many years where I feel comfortable with where that is. It isn’t a threat to me or my financial security. It was just a number of poor decisions.”
Mickelson’s words always come with a large side of subtext. In this case, his reference to “a decade” echoed his statement from February, in which he said, “The past 10 years … I know I have not been my best.” And while Mickelson has always been famous for his love of raising the stakes, he made it clear that off the course, things had gone too far — though he left open exactly what that meant.
“On the golf course, it’s creating competition. But it’s the anxiety, the other things that come across with gambling off the course and addiction off the course that I really needed to address,” he said.
If your inclination is to read Mickelson’s words through a filter of skepticism, well we can’t blame you. If there’s one thing Mickelson has taught us about his PR strategy over the years, it’s that he’s always working an angle. In this case, there are words and there are actions. You can believe Mickelson when he says he has been through a transformative experience these past few months. You can be happy for him that he has found time to reflect, prioritize and enjoy his family. But you can also note that when it comes to his golf, nothing has changed.
After all, in February, when Mickelson’s comments on the Saudis were made public just as he was about to join LIV, he disappeared from the public eye and cast his future plans in doubt. His apology seemed directly mostly at the LIV backers. Now he’s back, he’s still joining LIV, and we’re hearing from him with a not-so-hidden agenda: He’s justifying his decision to leave the PGA Tour, take the money and sign on with LIV.
For full context you can (and should!) read Harig’s entire interview with Mickelson on SI.com here.