Being the smartest guy in the room finally burned Phil Mickelson

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We’re two weeks away from the PGA Championship and Phil Mickelson is still not speaking, an odd statement for a man who’s spent more than three decades seemingly slipping into character before pouring his first cup of coffee and doing it nearest microphone or television camera at every opportunity.

But these are strange times in the Gulf.

Before he went incommunicado, however, the reigning PGA champion had a lot to say. Often it was (and still is) very entertaining or insightful. Often it was agenda-driven (see: hitting his moving ball at the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills) or even manipulative (see: The Last Time He Speaked when he issued a clumsy apology depicting himself including as a victim).

Sometimes what he said was just too much.

That was the case, as he readily admitted he was fine with overlooking Saudi Arabia’s long list of human rights atrocities — a country with a direct money chain from its death purveyors to the LIV Golf Series — to seek leverage with the PGA Tour , an organization whose “insufferable greed,” as Mickelson put it, has helped line its pockets well over $100 million over the years.

He’s not the only player willing to turn a blind eye – a number of the game’s stars are publicly or privately contemplating the controversial rival circuit, and a possible suspension be damned.

Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship last year and at 50 became golf’s oldest major champion.
USA TODAY sports

But to understand why Mickelson was scorched in an interview with someone who is writing a book about him, one must first understand his mindset. Crazy rant, yes, but Phil has always thought of himself as the smartest guy in the room, has teetered on the fringes of controversy before, and earned the unflattering nickname “FIGJAM” early in his career for a reason.

He had also been banging this latest drum for a while – before the drumstick and Mickelson himself snapped.

Late last year, just as I was about to transition to The Post from covering golf full-time, which I had been doing for the last 12 years, I tweeted criticism the very standard sports wash performed by Bubba Watson through his Saudi Arabian benefactors. The next day, Mickelson sent me an unsolicited message. I didn’t write a book like Alan Shipnuck, but I still covered the sport and started asking questions.

“Tour players are some of the best informed athletes in the sport, they know Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights history. They killed (Jamal) Khashoggi, we have loved ones who are gay and they kill people because they are gay.” Mickelson began. “So why are we still thinking about joining the league? … Then we will all have more money [sic] we can possibly spend, so it’s not.”

After some back-and-forth, Mickelson explained and refined the same things — control of his own media rights, most notably — that he did in his now infamous interview with Shipnuck, which landed him in hot water in the public perception court.

“If the players have a voice or ‘own’ the tour, I’ll say I’d like to own my media rights and digital moments,” Mickelson wrote in his series of replies to me. “Where are they? Where’s the vote?

“Why is a non-profit tour based on not ‘taking’ anything from players, but rather helping players create opportunities by paying millions in a marketing campaign to disparage players who welcome another tournament tour? Or stop a collaboration because it would belong to the players and the tour wouldn’t control it 100 percent?”

As reported by The Post’s Mark Cannizzaro, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was presented with a proposal last October that would involve an eight-part series featuring top players, huge purses, and most importantly, player ownership. It was shot down.

Meanwhile, Mickelson continued to plead his case.

“The music industry has had to move from label owning the master recording to collaborating with the artists and building a partnership as the model changed due to the internet and Apple technology,” he wrote, comparing that world to himself changing landscape in the Gulf.

It’s also worth noting that Mickelson’s sabbatical from esports may be related to other details in Shipnuck’s forthcoming book, which, among other things, details $40 million in gambling losses over a four-year period.

Or maybe there are even more disturbing stories in a book due out later this year from famous gambler Billy Walters, a former friend of Mickelson’s who was jailed for insider trading and allegedly gave Mickelson stock tips that allowed Lefty to pay off gambling debts.

The future of the PGA Tour, Mickelson and the Saudi Golf League remains as uncertain as the future of the six-time major champion. At least for now. Phil still doesn’t speak.

“The tour wants to be the 100 percent dictator in a changing environment,” Mickelson wrote in one of his last messages before finally going dark. “I think it’s going to be self-defeating, but we’ll see.” Being the smartest guy in the room finally burned Phil Mickelson

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