EXCLUSIVE: The author of Phil Mickelson’s recently published biography, Alan Shipnuck spoke exclusively to Mirror Sport, after his pages with the American took the golfing world by storm.
Once considered the “people’s champion” of golf, six-time Major winner Phil Mickelson finds his shining legacy in tatters just one year after his record-breaking PGA Championship triumph.
After months and months of speculation, Mickelson has officially confirmed his intention to join the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series ahead of this week’s inaugural event. The saga surrounding the 51-year-old and the rebel circuit began long before this week’s engagement, and has been the hottest topic in golf for some time.
Whispers of a Saudi-funded ‘Super League’ as coined have been circulating for over a year, and one name still strongly linked was that of Mickelson. Despite the rumours, any concrete deal had apparently remained secret until February this year, when talks surrounding the separatist circuit finally reached a boiling point.
With the once-proposed idea now turning into a concrete series, questions about who would participate were starting to be asked – and the name on everyone’s lips was Mickelson. With the American’s potential entry into the air, one man knew the truth of Mickelson’s intentions, and that man was famed golf journalist Alan Shipnuck.
Shipnuck – who is the author of the six-time big winner’s recently published biography, ‘Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorised!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar’ had had extensive conversations with Mickelson for the creation of his book . During those conversations, one of the topics discussed was of course his relationship with the Saudi League, and what followed took the golf world by storm.
According to Shipnuck, the 51-year-old described the Saudi state as “scary mothers *****”, referring to the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khassogi and their inhumane treatment of the gay community. Despite this, Mickelson apparently insinuated he was willing to look that way in order to gain “leverage” on the PGA Tour – with whom he found himself in a battle.
Quotes published by his biographer led Mickelson to go “underground” and go into exile for four months, after the inappropriate comments left his once glittering reputation in shambles. His silence was finally broken this week after he entered the LIV series opener at the Centurion Club. Now, after finally committing to the Saudi-backed Tour, Shipnuck believes there is no turning back for one of the PGA Tour’s most beloved stars.
Speaking exclusively to Mirror Sport days before Mickelson’s return was confirmed, Shipnuck said: “I think he’s at a huge crossroads personally and professionally and what he decides will have a huge impact on his legacy. We know Saudi money is monumental what is hanging in front of it and it is tempting. But, if Phil wants to be that beloved former statesman and he wants to be Ryder Cup captain, maybe Johnny Miller sat in the TV tower – by the way, he would be excellent at it – which is a lucrative job, I think he needs to get away from the Saudis.
Mickelson has of course been a fixture on the PGA Tour since he burst onto the scene in 1994. Shipnuck is a man who has followed Lefty’s roller coaster journey every step of the way, and despite the damage done to his legacy as a “champion of the people,” believed there was a path back to the top for the 51-year-old, similar to that of longtime rival Tiger Woods.
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He added: “If he comes back [prior to his LIV agreement] at the PGA Tour and said “hey I was trying to be a careful businessman, maybe I played my hand a little too much, I’m sorry, I’m here to sign autographs, birdies and have fun” everyone will love to clap Phil again. If you look at Tiger, he’s made his family, his fans and the game far worse with his scandals and he’s never been more beloved, so there’s definitely a way back for Phil to be a fan favourite.
“But if he takes the Saudi money after everything he said, and we now know his true feelings about them, he looks like a morally bankrupt mercenary, and it becomes much harder to encourage him. , so I think he will have to come to grips with that. Of course, Lefty’s decision is now made. He has apparently turned his back on the Tour which – on the surface – has served him throughout an extremely successful at the top of the game.
Having documented his career every step of the way and being the man behind his biography, few in the game know Mickelson better than Shipnuck, and with the decision now made, the writer feels the commitment of the American to stick to the Saudi event was done in order to avoid “admitting defeat” following his initial comments. Whether his fans like it or not, the six-time grand champion will play for the Saudi-funded millions on Thursday as the LIV series kicks off in Hertfordshire.