Saturday, May 31, 2014

You Gotta Play Hurt -- Also Lawyered Up

The above the fold headline of the Wall Street Journal on my doorstep this morning read "Stock Probe Eyes Icahn, Gambler, Top Golfer."

Without reading further, I knew immediately that the golfer in question was Phil Mickelson, as would anyone else who's followed the sport for more than an hour and a half. Even throwing out the word "Gambler," it's hard to imagine the likes of Jason Dufner or Justin Rose plunging in the stock market or rubbing shoulders with one of America's most prominent financiers. Most pros take the sensible view that their careers contain all the risk a human being could want, thank you.

Not Phil. Mickelson's past sports gambling exploits are the stuff of clubhouse legend. His penchant for attempting the impossible on the golf course are why he's adored by fans, all of whom try the same thing when THEY play. So it's cost him about four U.S. Opens. Never up, never in!

Mickelson is also a bright and intellectually curious person who would find the company of persons accomplished in other fields a major benefit of his fame and fortune. He works hard, but he's not gonna be out there beating balls in the dark like Vijay Singh. Life's got more to offer Mickelson than that.

Then I read the story. As is often the case, the headline was the best part. The text informed me that the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Bureau of Investigation have questioned Phil and Las Vegas course owner Billy Walters, the world's greatest sports bettor, just ask him, on what Icahn may have told them prior to their 2011 trades in the stock of Clorox, because maybe Icahn told them something that would make his own trades and by extension theirs, illegal insider trading.

The story also noted there's been no evidence of wrongdoing found -- yet. Insider trading is a very hard crime to prove when it's based on first-hand information. For second-hand information of the sort Mickelson's supposed to have gotten, it's damn near impossible. So Phil's gallery at the Open in Pinehurst in a few weeks probably won't contain any Feds.

That, however, is not what interested me most about this affair. What got me was learning that Mickelson was questioned after finishing his first round of the Memorial tournament Thursday afternoon.

In a classic Mickelsonian implosion, Phil went from five under par to even by finishing the round double bogey-bogey-double bogey.  The average lousy golfer would be distressed. A Hall of Fame pro is beyond distressed. Now imagine walking off the course not to a mob of autograph seekers, but to some polite FBI agents seeking to link you to a federal crime.

Now there's a distraction! Rory McIlroy could break up with a girlfriend a week and it wouldn't match what happened to Mickelson.

On Friday, Phil went out and shot a quiet two-under 70 to make the cut. Whatever else may be said about Mickelson the golfer, don't say he's not mentally tough. Maybe not always all there, but what is there is sure tough.

The next time I or any other of the millions of amateur (golf's exquisite synonym for "incompetent") golfers out there hit a bad shot or two, we ought to think of Phil in the second round of the Memorial and stifle our excuses.


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