You can say all of this has happened — including his throwing in with an upstart golf circuit funded by Saudi Arabia — because he has always believed he’s the smartest guy in the room.
You would be right on all counts. But as someone who has known Mickelson for almost 30 years, one word comes to mind following all that has happened in recent months: sad.
The whole thing is sad, because Mickelson, 51, has been a truly great player: six major championships, 45 victories on the PGA Tour, a Hall of Famer when he was 41. He played on 12 straight Ryder Cup teams and, until a couple of months ago, was a lock to captain the U.S. team at Bethpage Black in 2025.
The numbers are tremendous, but they don’t begin to tell Mickelson’s complicated story. Put simply, the guy has been great for golf.
He has always been fun to watch, with his Arnold Palmer go-for-broke style that has both made him — coming from three behind on the back nine at the 2004 Masters — and broken him, as in his meltdown on the 18th hole during the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Beyond that, the only golfer in history who has come close to signing as many autographs as Mickelson is Palmer. Every day at the golf course, regardless of how he played, Mickelson blocked off 45 minutes to sign autographs. I often watched him interact with fans as he did so — listening, laughing, responding, making them feel as if they mattered.
“He just signs [autographs] to help his image and his marketing” was an argument I heard countless times.
My answer was always the same: “Maybe so, but do you think the 10-year-old kid going home with his autograph cares why he signed?”
Most of the time, Mickelson was also a joy for us in the media to work with. He had his occasional walk-offs after bad rounds, but they were infrequent. After his awful double bogey that cost him that U.S. Open in 2006, he not only spoke to the media but said this: “I’m such an idiot.”
Go ahead and give me the list of athletes who have been that candid after a disaster. I’ve got one: John McEnroe, who came into the interview room at the Australian Open in 1990 after being defaulted mid-match and said: “This is like a long story, you know, that culminates in me getting defaulted at a big tournament. . . . I guess it was bound to happen.”
Mickelson was also very funny at times. When he was tied for the lead after 54 holes at the 2004 Masters, someone asked him how it felt knowing that Tiger Woods, his No. 1 tormentor, was back in the pack, trailing by nine shots. Rather than give the patented “I just play against the golf course” cliche, Mickelson shrugged and said, “It doesn’t suck.”
The next day he overcame Ernie Els’s three-stroke lead on the back nine and won his first major with an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th green that led to one of the great non-jumps in sports history. Even if you aren’t a golf fan, you’ve probably seen the putt and Mickelson’s earthbound leap.