Different Strokes: Phil Mickelson gambling reputation

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Phil Mickelson's fortunes have taken a turn for the worse this week.

Alex Dimond brings you a light-hearted look at the world of golf in Different Strokes. This week is focussed a tough fortnight for Phil Mickelson and a redemption for Bubba Watson at the Travelers Championship.

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– Joy of Golf: The brilliant and bizarre mind of Bubba

1. Mickelson gambling his reputation late in the day

It is safe to say that Phil Mickelson has not had the best couple of weeks. After failing to get even close to contending at the US Open – there goes another shot at the career grand slam – a few weeks ago, Mickelson ran into trouble off the course this week, after a report linked him to an illegal gambling ring.

According to ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Mickelson was part of an illegal gambling operation that saw him transfer nearly $3 million through an intermediary, Gregory Silveira, to an offshore betting account.

Silveira, a man with a background in sports betting (which remains illegal in most places in the United States), recently pled guilty to three counts of money laundering for an “unnamed client” between 2010 and 2013. The identity of that client was clearly supposed to remain secret but, well, a slip in the paperwork (and some great investigative reporting) pretty much gave the game away.

As the Outside the Lines report noted: “Although the final plea agreement reached between Silveira and the U.S. Department of Justice does not name the ‘gambling client,’ an initial plea agreement signed last month by Silveira and his attorney, James D. Henderson Sr., contained a reference to the ‘money laundering of funds from P.M.’

“After Outside the Lines inquired about Mickelson’s potential role in the case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office on June 17 filed a motion to have the original plea agreement stricken. The next day, it filed an amended version minus any reference to ‘P.M.’”

Who knows, perhaps “P.M.” actually referred to occasional PGA Tour player Prom Meesawat. Then again, considering Meesawat has earned just $189,000 in the US in the last eight years, that would seem very much a stretch.

This is not the first time Mickelson has run into awkward headlines. Twelve months ago he was cited in reports as being under federal investigation over insider trading, a story that disrupted his US Open preparation that year (allegations that also involved a betting element, although no charges have been brought). In fact, Mickelson has not won an event anywhere in the world since the 2013 Open Championship.

Mickelson’s love of a gamble is an open secret. The most famous incident involving Lefty perhaps came in 2001 at the NEC Invitational, when Mickelson was in the clubhouse watching the play-off between Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. When Furyk went in the bunker on one hole, Mickelson offered the room odds of 25/1 that he would hole the shot. Mike Weir took the $20 action … and Furyk duly holed the shot.

Mickelson is also known for the money matches he gets involved in during practice rounds at tournaments, with Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and a rotating cast of other well-known names among a group who regularly wager their way around the course. There is nothing wrong with that per se, of course (if there was the PGA Tour would quickly put a stop to it), but these latest revelations, which hint at the breadth and depth of Mickelson’s taste for a flutter, cast such proclivities in a slightly different light.

The latest reports pose a twin threat to Mickelson: Both his reputation off the course, and his ability to compete on it. At 45 years old it is no secret that Mickelson is entering his final years as a consistent threat on the PGA Tour, and may even only have a handful of major championship challenges left in him. The tournament he badly wants to win is the US Open, so by completing the grand slam, yet in the last two years his chances have been ravaged by off-course distractions (even this year, while preparing for Chambers Bay he surely knew this story was about to come out).

Away from that, however, Mickelson has long been beloved by casual fans for his swashbuckling style on the golf course and his cheery demeanour and accommodating attitude (he will literally sign anything, it seems) off it. Were more reports to emerge about the darker side of Phil’s personality, it would be a sad way for his career to end.

Mickelson may be able to evade prying questions about his current situation over the next few weeks (so far he and his camp have refused to comment on the reports), but he will almost certainly have to face an inquisitive press at the Open Championship at the start of next month.

That might be his chance to put these reports in context – alternatively, by then we might have even more information to wonder about.

2. These guys really are good

Two brilliant items from last week’s events for you to enjoy. First, here’s last weeks winner at the Travelers Championship, Bubba Watson, showing exactly why he is, to paraphrase his own words, “on that side of the ropes”.

Watson has had a difficult press in recent times, with a recent book publication shining a light on some of his more hypocritical behaviour, but this sort of thing – when done in the right spirit – we would certainly like to see more of. Golf is better when the athletes and the spectators can enjoy a closer relationship.

3. Driving at the range with my woes

It is rare that the veil is lifted on life behind the scenes at the PGA Tour, although the increased prevalence of Twitter has changed that somewhat. That was shown earlier this week, when PGA Tour rookie Will Wilcox had a brief (and not entirely friendly) exchange with Brendan Steele on the social network.

Usually our sympathies would lie with Wilcox (no-one likes a prude, let alone a snitch), except on this occasion he loses plenty of points for opening with “Yo dawg” when, from what we can see, he appears to be a middle-class white man (listening to rap and hip-hop does not make you black … something Different Strokes also took a while to learn).

Still, at least, we’ve learned one thing this week: Don’t play Drake on the driving range at a PGA Tour event. Some of your fellow players won’t appreciate it.

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