SAN DIEGO — Phil Mickelson turned to his biggest blunder on the golf course to apologize for his latest mistake with his mouth.
Mickelson caused a sensation this week by saying new federal and state tax rates kept him from being part of the San Diego Padres’ new ownership group and might cause him to move away from his native California as part of “drastic changes” brought on by the political climate.
He said Wednesday it was a “big mistake” to go public with his views, and he illustrated it with his worst moment in golf.
Mickelson was on the verge of finally winning the U.S. Open when he had a one-shot lead on the final hole at Winged Foot. He drove left onto the corporate tents, and then tried to hit 3-iron around a tree. It led to a double bogey that cost him the championship.
“This reminds me a lot of Winged Foot in 2006, where I hit a drive way left off the tents. So this happened to be way right,” Mickelson said, a playful reference to his position on the higher taxes. “I’ve made some dumb, dumb mistakes. And obviously, talking about this stuff was one of them.”
Golf Digest magazine listed Mickelson’s earnings on and off the golf course last year at $47 million, and millionaires complaining about their taxes is sure to be a polarizing topic. Mickelson figured that out quickly, issuing a statement on Monday night that he should have kept his opinion to himself.
After his final round of the Humana Challenge, he said the federal tax rate combined with California passing Proposition 30 — the first tax increase in the state since 2004 — would force him to make big changes.
“If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate is 62, 63 percent,” Mickelson said on Sunday at PGA West. “So I’ve got to make some decisions on what I’m going to do.”
For all the talk about the tee shot at Winged Foot, what cost him the U.S. Open was trying to hit 3-iron onto the green instead of playing out to the fairway and trying to get up-and-down for his par.
“I think I’m going to learn my lesson and take a wedge and get it back in play,” Mickelson said, sticking with the golf analogy. “I made a big mistake talking about this stuff publicly, and I shouldn’t have done that.”
About the only thing missing from the Winged Foot story was a repeat of his most memorable line that day: “I am such an idiot.”
He said that in so many words with several self-deprecating moments that concluded a bizarre early afternoon on a cloudy day at Torrey Pines. Mickelson stayed in his car with his publicist for nearly 40 minutes, as reporters waited for his press conference to begin and Golf Channel — which televised it live — bought time. He finally emerged from the car only to lean against the trunk for 20 minutes talking with his publicist and a PGA Tour media official.
“Just trying to gather my thoughts,” he said.
Mickelson dodged several questions about whether he would leave San Diego or his thoughts on taxes, only ceding to the temptation one time when he said he has never had a problem paying his fair share of taxes.
“I don’t know what that is right now,” he said, “but I’ve never had a problem paying my fair share.”
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he wasn’t aware of everything Mickelson said from the Humana Challenge — “I didn’t understand what it is I saw,” he added — but that he didn’t seem overly bothered.
“Generally, people making decisions based on the tax rates in California on top of the federal tax rates is not a unique thing,” Finchem said.
One concern for Mickelson was the fans. He is one of the most popular figures in golf, famous for signing autographs for up to an hour after just about every round. Asked about the prospect of alienating fans, Mickelson said, “I knew that would happen, and again, I should not have talked any type of politics or financial or taxation stuff publicly.”
“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,” Mickelson said. “I think that was insensitive to discuss it in that forum.”
He didn’t apologize for what he said — only that he said it.
“I shouldn’t have taken advantage of the forum that I have as a professional golfer to try to ignite change over these issues,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson is a three-time winner at Torrey Pines, his first one coming 20 years ago in his first full season as a pro. Along with being one of the most famous sports figures to come out of San Diego, he has been hired to redesign the North Course that is used for two days at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Golf, though, was an afterthought this week with Mickelson talking taxes, Tiger Woods returning for the first time in two years and players getting their first chance to meet together over the proposed ban on anchored putting strokes.
Mickelson doesn’t expect any distractions for the week, perhaps because this isn’t the first time his words have stirred the pot. It was 10 years ago this week when Mickelson had to apologize to Woods for saying in a magazine article that he was winning despite using “inferior equipment.” It sounded even worse in 2003 because Mickelson had yet to win his first major.
“I’ve said some stupid things in the past that have caused a media uproar before. It’s part of my life, and I’ll deal with it,” Mickelson said. “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.”
Asked the next dumbest thing he said besides the tax issue, Mickelson mentioned the inferior equipment. That’s as far as he went.
“Yeah, I’m sure we can think of some pearls over the years, too,” he said.
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