Monday Finish: Why Phil Mickelson won’t log off; Bryson, Reed talk ‘luck’
Welcome to the Monday Finish! This is where we’ll tally the scores for the week that was and tee you up for the week to come. This Monday that means thoughts on Phil Mickelson’s approach to social media, how Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed think about “luck” and where the golf world sits approaching the Open.
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Phil Mickelson has entered the chat.
One million years ago, in 2009, athletes — and professional golfers (*ba-dum tss*) — started joining Twitter. It’s easy to forget just how big a change this was, because suddenly pros could deliver information directly to their fans, taking the middle-man media at least partially out of the flow of information. If a player wanted to give a particular quote, release a statement or offer his or her side of the story, that could suddenly be done directly.
Stewart Cink joined Twitter in February 2009. Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler in April. Bubba Watson followed suit that September. Golf’s Twitter pioneers were on the frontier. Phil Mickelson was not.
“I never understood how impactful social media can be, not the way guys like Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler and guys that have been doing it a long time,” Mickelson said on Sunday in Detroit following a T74 finish at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. “But I’ve always used it as like, entertainment, trying to put out funny little clips here or there. When some stuff happened this week, it was nice to have a voice.”
Let’s unpack briefly what “some stuff happened” means, for those of you who have been blissfully enjoying a Twitter-free holiday weekend. In short, on Tuesday the Detroit News released a story involving Mickelson, a large wager with a local bookie and that bookie swindling Mickelson out of $500,000. The story itself was two decades old, but unsealed testimony had come to light just weeks ago, hence its newsworthiness. Mickelson did not see it that way, took issue with said newsworthiness and implied early in the week that he was unlikely to return based on the spirit of the article.
This was a curious episode for several reasons. For one, Mickelson (and his lawyer) acknowledged the story was true. For another, the article was buried behind a paywall and relatively unlikely to be seen without Mickelson’s amplification. The Detroit News has somewhere around 100,000 subscribers. Mickelson has 745,000 followers just on Twitter. Finally Mickelson’s beef seemed most specifically directed at the article’s author, Robert Snell, a court reporter. It’s not infrequent for a golfer to have beef with a golf writer who covers him or her frequently, but it seems unlikely that these guys didn’t have history. Also, Mickelson’s assertion that “negative” news stories lead to less charitable giving was an interesting insight to his way of of thinking, but felt like a bit of a stretch. Why should one have much to do with the other?
But forget the details of all the above. This is social media. There’s no requirement for consistency or 360-degree reasoning. It’s PIP season, and it’s clout-chasing season, and this week it became clear that Mickelson has learned the most important (if nihilistic) lessons of wielding social media power: pick fights and rally your followers. Us against them. This is the approach Brooks Koepka has taken against Bryson DeChambeau. It’s the approach that has helped turn Barstool Sports into one of the world’s largest media companies. It’s the approach that has shaped plenty of our American political systems over the last half-decade. It works. Mickelson issued a grievance and his followers rallied to that grievance. They were more than ready to jump to his defense. If turned into a popularity contest — Snell vs. Mickelson — well, one of them didn’t stand a chance.
I expressed my own intrigue on Twitter, and Mickelson responded. (Side note: Now that I have officially referenced “something I tweeted,” you have my full permission to exit the column.) Partly this was interesting because it was a reminder that when Mickelson is Online he responds to just about anyone, including unverified rubes like myself. But the content of his answer was telling, too.
“Hold the media accountable since they rarely are,” he wrote. “Local media do this often, use famous people when they come to town to increase their own exposure. Often we just don’t come back nor get involved in the causes. Media colleagues should be bringing this to light but never do.”
It’s not so obvious to me that Snell wrote the article to “increase his own exposure.” He has not responded to any of Mickelson’s Twitter salvos nor referenced the story in a single follow-up. When I asked him to chat for the purposes of this column, he “respectfully declined” and wished me a pleasant weekend. He does not seem to be clout-chasing.
My best guess is that Mickelson’s motivations for taking him on with strongly-worded phrases like “self-centered opportunism” are simple and twofold:
- Prevent future similarly “negative” coverage. What local reporter is now going to write a Mickelson story without this episode in the back of his or her mind?
- It felt good. He immediately experienced the benefits, online and in real life, as fans and followers rallied to support him. It was certainly the most support he has received for a T74 finish.
But I’m also not sure that Mickelson has fully considered the ramifications of this one-sided Twitter war. Since he signed up for the platform in August 2018, he’s gotten consistently better at quippy replies, one-liners and random responses to followers. After he won the PGA, he spent his victory flight home, as he put it, “Sipping wine, half lit, tweeting. Life is good.” In short, he tweets because he likes to.
There’s one other Mickelson tweet I think about with some frequency. A follower of Mickelson’s expressed some doubt that it was actually Lefty himself replying to random users all evening.
“You think a guy with a few hundred million dollars is wasting his time on Twitter?” he wrote. Mickelson’s response was perfect.
“Yet here we are.”
After finishing off a third consecutive 72 on Sunday, Mickelson was asked if he weighs the consequences of sending a particular tweet and considers what will happen if it takes off or goes viral, as he puts it, “for the right or wrong reasons.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it,” he said.
On that front, I’m inclined to believe him. And with newfound power at his fingertips, Mickelson isn’t logging off anytime soon.
Who won what?
Cam Davis won the Rocket Mortgage Classic on the fifth playoff hole by making his fifth consecutive par, earning his maiden PGA Tour victory when Troy Merritt missed a short try for par.
“It was cool, it was just a really cool environment,” Davis, a 26-year-old Aussie, said of the Fourth of July crowd. “I know it’s a big day and it’s cool to get this trophy on an important day over here.”
Last week in this column I mentioned I was curious to see how Jin Young Ko would respond the week after losing her spot at World No. 1 to Nelly Korda. As it turned out, she answered by winning on the LPGA, taking down the Volunteers of America Classic at Old American Golf Club by a single shot.
“I was thinking I had a lot of pressure with the No. 1 ranking,” Ko said. “But I made it this week. I’m very happy.”
On the European Tour, 25-year-old Aussie Lucas Herbert went wire-to-wire at the Irish Open to earn his second European Tour title. On the Ladies European Tour, Steph Kyriacou won the Big Green Egg Open (incredible sponsor and trophy, by the way.)
In all, it marked a big week for Aussie golf, as summed up by Evin Priest:
Who came up just short?
If you’re not going to win, getting to a fifth sudden-death playoff hole is about as close as you can get. That’s exactly where Troy Merritt made it before missing a five-footer for par and costing himself a chance at a third PGA Tour victory and his first since 2018.
Joaquin Niemann, meanwhile, had gone 77 holes in a row without a bogey before tragically bogeying the very first playoff hole to eliminate himself from competition, but still — it was a great week for the yes-he’s-still-only-22-year-old.
And Bubba Watson, who has been relentlessly positive despite some recent weekend blow-ups, rallied with a Sunday eight-under 64 to finish T6, two shots outside the playoff.
“I mean, I’ve been playing good the last, I don’t even know dates anymore, but last few months,” he said. He’s right.
On the LPGA Tour, Matilda Castren pushed Ko to the brink before ultimately falling one shot short, despite a birdie at the 71st hole. Castren began 2021 outside the world’s Top 200 but won two starts ago at the LPGA Mediheal Championship to jump inside the top 75 and now should jump again. The Finnish 26-year-old is just getting started.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
On the Wednesday before the Rocket Mortgage, Bryson DeChambeau — hours before an official split with his caddie — was asked about his back-nine 44 on Sunday at the U.S. Open, which sent him from the lead to well outside contention. To what did he attribute the result?
“Just luck,” he said.
Just … luck? He expanded on the idea.
“I mean, I slipped on 13 [tee]. Everybody was apparently slipping on 13 and I didn’t know that. I slipped two days in a row, then got in a bad lie, which you’re expecting, it’s the U.S. Open, but it’s a part of life. I could have hit it five more feet to the right across the cart path and gone for the green. So it’s just one of those things that a little bit of luck there. And then a streaker, that was fun.
“Then just laid up into a bad lie in the right rough, had a bad line. And then, you know, I just feel like my driver’s kind of a bit of luck. Sometimes I pull it, sometimes I push it and on 17 I pulled it into a bad lie or in the hazard and then hit a great wedge shot and it spun off the front edge into a really bad lie and just hit it off the hosel and went over the green. That’s what it is. It’s just things compounding on each other that you just can’t necessarily control fully. You hit a great shot, nothing happened for you. That’s luck.”
One way to read this is as excuse-making, but a more useful interpretation is probably that this is how DeChambeau sees golf. There are inputs and outputs. Hitting driver? That’s like rolling the dice. Most other golfers don’t quite see things the same way, which is always what makes DeChambeau’s approach intriguing by comparison. And to his credit, he explained that in his mind, winning at Winged Foot involved plenty of luck, too:
“Yeah, a huge factor,” he said. “Yeah, 14, I hit it left, into a dead spot where the pin was left as well. and I was kind of on an upslope and I was trying to hit it 20 feet past but I chunked it. It came out dead just on the front edge and trickled to 10 feet and I made the 10-footer to have a flip-flop again with Matthew [Wolff] to give myself a four-shot advantage. You’re going to need those to win. Every golf tournament has that.
“People don’t realize how much luck plays a big factor. You can control a lot, but at the end of the day, still luck is a huge component of it.”
Now contrast that with the answer of Patrick Reed, who was asked whether he thinks luck is a big factor in whether someone wins or loses a golf tournament.
“No,” he said, simply. “The guy who wins the golf tournament usually gets a good break here or there that could make a difference, but a lot of the times I don’t feel like those are the reason why they win the golf tournaments. It’s more that might be what keeps them having certain momentum to — whether they’re on a birdie run and they hit one that gets a good bounce to kind of keep it in play, get it up and down for par, bounces, gets on the green. But I wouldn’t say luck is what’s involved in winning golf tournaments.
“The guy who wins golf tournaments is usually the guy who’s playing best that week and is out there doing everything a little better than everyone else. That’s what it takes to win golf tournaments. Four days, 72 holes, you’re going to get good bounces, you’re going to get bad bounces. It’s the guy who’s playing consistently the best golf that week that’s going to win that golf tournament.”
Ultimately, what Reed is saying overlaps with what DeChambeau is saying. There are bounces and breaks that can make a big difference. But their takeaways are dramatically different. Is luck a “huge component” of tournament performance? Or is it not particularly involved?
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
Davis’ win in Detroit wasn’t just a big W for the people of Australia — it was a win for Seattle, too. Davis lives here with his wife, who was watching his win from their Washington home on Sunday.
What else is happening in Seattle? For one thing, the cruise ships have returned. I’m obsessed with going for neighborhood walks and watching the boats come in and out of the Puget Sound. For months, I’ve been in awe of the container ships that come and go, dropping massive cargo loads. But for the first time in the year that I’ve lived here, I peeked out one morning to a behemoth of a cruise ship and finally realized how big a top-tier cruise really is. This was a city on a boat. My goodness.
Three things to watch this week.
- Links golf! As Rory McIlroy pointed out this weekend, he hasn’t played proper links golf in nearly two years, dating back to Royal Portrush in 2019. But now he, Jon Rahm and the rest of the Scottish Open field will tee it up at the Renaissance Club in a tune-up for the following week’s Open Championship.
- Inbee Park! The last two weeks we’ve seen the world No. 1 (Nelly Korda) and the World No. 2 (Jin Young Ko) win on the LPGA Tour. With neither Ko nor Korda in the field at this week’s Marathon Classic, will world No. 3 Inbee Park get the job done?
- Ryan Fox vs. Eddie Pepperell. Yes it’s two years old, but it resurfaced ahead of this week’s Irish Open and it’s brilliant. Pepperell vs. Fox in a 14-club challenge. As hilarious as it is impressive.
We’ll see you next week!