After spending nearly an hour in the parking lot in a top-secret huddle with his PR lackey and a PGA Tour media official, Phil Mickelson graced the press with his presence in the interview room at Torrey Pines and apologized for publicly airing his grievances with tax laws.
Mickelson, a native and current resident of the San Diego area, asked for a mulligan, referring to the comments he made last Sunday, and compared his mangling of state and federal tax hikes with the time he blew a one-shot lead on the 18th hole at Winged Foot in the final round of the 2006 U.S. Open.
Yep, that image of Mickelson floundering past those white hospitality tents is still pretty clear in our memories.
“This reminds me a lot of Winged Foot in 2006, where I hit a drive way left off the tents,” said Mickelson on Wednesday afternoon, smiling. “So this happened to be way right, but way off the tents. You know, I’ve made some dumb, dumb mistakes, and, obviously, talking about this stuff was one of them.
“Like Winged Foot, where I tried to carve a 3-iron around a tree and get it up by the green, I make double bogey and lose the U.S. Open, I think I’m going to learn my lesson and take a wedge and get it back in play.
“I made a big mistake talking about this stuff publicly, and I shouldn’t have done that.”
After finishing T37 at the Humana Challenge last Sunday, Mickelson, who is worth a reported estimate of $180 million, told the media he was being taxed “62-63%, and he would have to make “drastic changes” as a result. However, experts say that figure is closer to 50%.
Forbes.com criticized the 60-something-percent figure Phil
crafted incorrectly cited, and pointed out that one of his sponsors — ironically — the accounting giant KPMG, paid him an estimated $44 million in 2012. Forbes also listed Mickelson as the second-highest compensated golfer, raking in an estimated $46.7 million in 2012. Just in career earnings on the PGA Tour — not counting endorsements — Mickelson has made almost $70 million, which ranks him third on the all-time money list.
“I absolutely love what I do. I love and appreciate the game of golf and the people who surround it. I’m as motivated as I’ve ever been to work on my game, to compete and to win championships.
“Right now, I’m like many Americans who are trying to understand the new tax laws. I’ve been learning a lot over the last few months and talking with people who are trying to help me make intelligent and informed decisions. I certainly don’t have a definitive plan at this time, but like everyone else I want to make decisions that are best for my future and my family.
“Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public. I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.”
Mickelson implies he wasn’t apologizing for his personal issues with it, rather for speaking out about it — because, well, again, we don’t really care about his #multimillionareproblems. (Which, to be clear, is fine that he has an opinion, as everyone is entitled to his/her own point of views. After all, it’s a free world!) He reiterated this on Wednesday.
“My apology is for talking about it publicly, because I shouldn’t take advantage of the forum that I have as a professional golfer to try to ignite change over these issues,” he said the eve before the Farmers Insurance Open, an event he’s won three times. “I shouldn’t have talked about it because I don’t have a plan formulated yet on what I’m going to do. And when I do come up with a plan, and Amy and I have talked about it, and we’ve been working through this for a while, and I’ll be able to talk more about it publicly then. But I shouldn’t have brought it up publicly and used this platform as a way to say what I had to say.”
Added Phil: “I think that it was insensitive to talk about it publicly to those people who are not able to find a job, that are struggling paycheck to paycheck. I think that was insensitive to discuss it in that forum. So that’s why I issued a statement, because I shouldn’t have brought it up at all, and I didn’t want to wait until today.”
His comments on Sunday ignited speculation that he planned to uproot his family from California to a state with friendlier income-tax laws (a la most athletes, who resides in Florida, like Tiger, and Texas). Don’t worry, Cali, he’s not going anywhere…soon.
“Well, I brought up some of the options that I shouldn’t have said on Sunday, and I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” he said. “So I should not have brought it up then. I’m not going to bring it up now until I know exactly what I’m going to do. I don’t want to speculate, but I’m not sure what we’re going to do yet…
“I love it here. I grew up in San Diego. And even though I went to college in Arizona, I dreamed of moving back here, because it’s beautiful. My family’s here. Amy’s family is here. Our kids’ grandparents are here. I love the community I live in.”
Mickelson also implied on Sunday that the new tax laws was tied to the reason why his deal as one of the partners in a group to buy the San Diego Padres fell through.
“There were a number of reasons that that just wasn’t the right fit,” he said on Wednesday when asked to clarify what he went. “As I said earlier, I wasn’t in a position at that time to make a commitment to the team and the community, and the current owners are. They’re moving to San Diego. They’re getting intricately involved in the community, and I think they’re going to be great owners.”
OK, you still didn’t answer the question, Phil.
“I just didn’t feel I was able to commit to being a part of the community at the time,” he insisted.
Mickelson said the controversy wouldn’t be a distraction for him this week on the golf course.
“I’ve said some stupid things in the past that have caused a media uproar before,” he said, smiling. “It’s part of my life, and I’ll deal with it. It’s just part of the deal. One of the things I pride myself on is whatever it is I’m dealing with in my personal life, once I get inside the ropes, I need to be able to focus on the shot at hand and be able to focus on shooting a low score.”
Fair enough. (And I do believe he really means and gets “the game” — which should be noted with respect.)
So, what’s the next dumbest thing you’ve said?
“The next dumbest was probably right here in San Diego ten years ago talking about equipment,” he said, laughing, referring to the comments he made in 2003 about Tiger’s ‘inferior equipment.’ “What a dumb thing that was. Yeah, I’m sure we can think of some pearls over the years, too.”
Back to taxes. He has no problem paying his “fair share” — what that is, he didn’t say.
“Well, I love this country, and I love the opportunities that it’s afforded me to be successful and to do what I love,” said Phil. “So I’ve never had a problem with that before. I’ve never had a problem paying my fair share, because I know there are very few countries in the world that let you do what you do and live in this environment and have your personal possessions be secured through the court systems, through the police, through all the many things that this country offers.”
As anyone who knows Mickelson knows, he enjoys spirited debates, but he was firm in clarifying that he should have left taxes and politics to discussions in closed doors.
“I’m always up for an individual debate, but I should have never done it publicly,” he said.
All credit to Phil, who is an ultimate PR genius that can spin gold from straw and charm a crowd as artful as a cunning politician. By next week, the uproar will be forgotten and everyone will be back to vowing their undying love for Lefty and his thumbs-ups.
(AP Photos/Denis Poroy)