In the context of modern professional golf, it’s hard to think of many phone calls more crucial than last November’s conversation between Phil Mickelson and Alan Shipnuck. During that conversation, Mickelson uttered a two-word phrase about Saudi backers of LIV Golf — calling them “scary m—–f—–s” — that spread across the internet, Questioned the launch of LIV and led to months of Mickelson. disappearing from the public eye.
On Wednesday, as Phil Mickelson returned to Saudi Arabia for the first time since Shipnuck made those comments public, he was asked about them. Mickelson’s response?
“So I will repeat, I never did an interview with Alan Shipnuck,” he said.
If it makes you go, “Wait what?” then you are not alone. For starters, let’s be clear on one thing: Mickelson isn’t saying he never spoke with Shipnuck, or even disputing the quotes in question. Instead, he says the content of the call was a private conversation.
Let’s rewind 11 months to better understand the circumstances of that phone call, how Shipnuck — who didn’t immediately respond to an interview request for this story — explained it, and what, exactly, Mickelson claims happened.
At the time, Shipnuck was writing a biography on Mickelson. Mickelson, meanwhile, was weighing the possibilities of joining — and shaping — LIV Golf. Until November, Mickelson had refused Shipnuck’s multiple requests to be interviewed for the book. But, according to Shipnuck (who is, in the interest of full disclosure, a former writer for GOLF), he finally reached out on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, just a week before the book’s deadline, saying, according to Shipnuck, that “he wanted to discuss media rights and his grievances with the PGA Tour, which inevitably bring back in Saudi Arabia. .”
Mickelson’s comments were not immediately printed. The biography was not to be released until the following May, the anniversary of Mickelson’s PGA Championship win. But by February, LIV had secured commitments from several PGA Tour pros and was set to make an announcement. Shipnuck, who felt he was in possession of valuable information about how Mickelson viewed the league and its backers, felt he had to act. He posted an excerpt from this book on the Fire Pit Collective site titled “The Truth About Phil and Saudi Arabia” which included their conversation. Here is the important excerpt:
‘Mickelson told me he enlisted three other ‘top players’ whom he declined to name and that they paid lawyers to draft the SGL operating agreement, codifying that the players would have the control of all the details. He didn’t pretend to be excited about making a fortune from Saudi Arabia, admitting that the SGL was nothing more than what he called “sportswashing” by a brutally repressive regime. “These are some scary motherfuckers to get involved with,” he said. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible human rights record. They execute people there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a unique opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works. They were able to get by with manipulative, coercive and heavy-handed tactics because we players had no recourse. Such a nice guy [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] seems like, unless you have leverage, it won’t do the right thing. And Saudi money finally gave us that leverage. I’m not even sure I want [the SGL] succeed, but the mere thought of it allows us to get things done with the [PGA] Round.”‘
Alan Shipnuck, writing about his conversation with Phil Mickelson
The comments circulated and were quickly picked up by international media. The fallout was immediate and severe; within hours, the conversation around LIV turned toxic, and interested gamers quickly became skittish. The PGA Tour used the moment to get written statements from top players like Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, which reinforced their commitments to the PGA Tour. (Spoiler alert: these commitments were not binding.)
By the end of the week, LIV’s demise seemed imminent. Rory McIlroy summed up the mood: “It’s dead in the water, in my opinion,” he said. It was obviously reactionary, and McIlroy has since acknowledged that his LIV obituary took the plunge. But at the time, LIV employees felt the same way. The interview had questioned his future.
Mickelson felt the fallout. The morning the snippet dropped, he texted Shipnuck.
“He was less than thrilled,” Shipnuck wrote of their trade. He added that Mickelson made “a half-hearted attempt at revisionist history, trying to say that our conversation had been a private conversation, but I shut that down very quickly.”
Several days later, Mickelson issued a statement apologizing for the comments and announced that he would be taking some time out from the public eye. It was also the first time Mickelson had publicly stated that he believed his comments to Shipnuck had not been recorded. Mickelson also acknowledged that the quotes were legitimate.
“While it may not look like it now given my recent comments, my actions throughout this process have always been in the best interest of golf, my peers, sponsors and fans. There is the issue. unsaved comments shared out of context and without my consent, but the biggest problem is that I used words that I sincerely regret and that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended the people and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I am beyond disappointed and will do my best to reflect and learn from this.
Phil Mickelson in his February 22 statement
A few weeks later, Mickelson was suspended by the PGA Tour for recruiting other pros to join LIV. The suspension was initially for two months, but was extended for a year after Mickelson threw him at LIV’s event in London, then for another year when he played at LIV Portland, according to the documents filed by the court.
Shipnuck wrote about Mickelson’s statement and made it clear that he thought the conversation was fair game. He has said in interviews that he would “go to his grave” knowing the conversation was being recorded and called Mickelson’s claims “false and misleading” in another Firepit column.
He knew I was working on a book about him and asked to speak, saying he wanted to discuss media rights and his grievances with the PGA Tour, which inevitably lead back to Saudi Arabia. If the subject of a biography calls the author, the content of that conversation will always inform the book, unless expressly agreed otherwise. Not once in our texts or when we called each other did Mickelson ask not to be recorded and I never consented; if he had asked, I would have pushed hard, because that was obviously material I wanted for the book. Mickelson just called me and opened a vein for me. To claim now that the comments were unofficial is false and deceitful.
Alan Shipnuck on Phil Mickelson’s claims
But he also said the reaction exceeded his expectations and desires.
“I watched it all unfold in a state of dismay,” Shipnuck wrote in another column. “I knew his blunt comments about the Saudis and the Tour would cause controversy, but I never imagined they would send a beloved Hall of Famer into exile for months.”
The allegations were also a direct blow to Shipnuck’s reputation. Trust, truth and reputation are about all a journalist has; Challenging them is serious business.
Both LIV and Mickelson survived the publication of the controversial snippet. In Wednesday’s presser, Mickelson also sang about LIV’s future, saying that in LIV’s fight against the PGA Tour, he thinks he’s on the “winning side.” LIV’s Saudi event is its seventh, and while its biggest battles remain – for world ranking points, broadcast deals and viewership – there’s no doubt the circuit has been more successful than expected. by the PGA Tour.
“I see LIV Golf trending up, I see the PGA Tour trending down,” Mickelson said. “I like the side I’m on. And I like how I feel. I like how invigorated and excited I am to play golf and compete. I love the experience. J love the way they treat us.
But Mickelson’s escape on Wednesday distracted from the original question and the bigger picture. If his experiences with those involved in LIV Golf have been, as he now says, “nothing but incredibly positive,” why did Mickelson initiate the conversation last November to begin with, and why did he— does he say what he said?
Shipnuck’s best guess comes from an interview with The 42where he guessed his subject’s motivation.
“It’s something interesting. When Phil picked up the phone to call me, was he planning on telling me all these things? I can’t say, but it was a long, somewhat emotional phone call. And sometimes when people start talking, they get carried away by the sound of their own voice and get lost in the moment.
“Maybe he really didn’t want to tell me all that at the start of the conversation, but in the end he couldn’t help himself. And it’s not a rookie doing his first interview, who has been overwhelmed with attention. He is a very wary media manipulator and has spent his entire career jousting with reporters and shaping public opinion.
“So Phil told me exactly what he wanted to tell me. And when the reaction was different from what he expected, then he kind of concocted this whole thing about being off-the-record. But I mean, I’ll go to my grave knowing that he never asked me not to be recorded and that all those comments were always going to be for the book.
This summer, Mickelson and Shipnuck hadn’t spoken at the other since their February exchange. We guess this won’t be the end of their conversation on each other.