Alan Shipnuck didn’t know his biography of Phil Mickelson would become the most anticipated and newsworthy release of a golf book since his 2011 collaboration with Michael Bamberger, “The Swinger,” a work of fiction that was a thinly disguised version of Tiger Woods, his rise and sudden fall (and since, rise again).
The big difference is that “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar” (Simon and Schuster) is true – difficult as it may be to believe some of the exploits, stories and anecdotes packed into the book that goes on sale in stores and online Tuesday.
What won’t happen next week is Mickelson defending his PGA Championship. The PGA of America announced on Friday that the two-time PGA winner would not play at Southern Hills, continuing an exile from competitive golf that is either self-imposed, a PGA Tour suspension or a combination of both.
Either way, his absence and Shipnuck’s book may overshadow the early part of PGA week — a book Shipnuck writes was “three decades in the making.”
“Phil is really fun to write about,” Shipnuck said from his home in Carmel, Calif. “He’s a larger-than-life character. He can be incredibly funny and charming and thoughtful, but also utterly ridiculous. There are things in the book about him that are infuriating and things that soften your heart. He is many things but never, ever boring.”
The book starts with Mickelson challenging Shipnuck to a fight under the 18th hole grandstand at the Medinah Country Club in Chicago after the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship and ends 239 pages later with Shipnuck’s poignant description of Mickelson and his wife Amy walking hand-in-hand at Whistling Straits at the end of the second day of the 2021 Ryder Cup, moments after Amy Mickelson said of the U.S. dismantling of Europe, with her husband as one of the vice-captains, “Oh, this is great! All the fun but none of the stress.”
In between those incidents is plenty of fun and stress as Shipnuck vividly tells the story of a walking, talking, shot-making contradiction:
• Mickelson, the golf genius who made some of the most miraculous shots and biggest blunders of his generation and owner of perhaps the best combination of the short game and putting in PGA Tour history, but has obsessed about ways to hit the ball higher and farther than anyone.
Mickelson, the mentor to younger Tour pros who also went full-blown Mean Girl in cruelly making fun of one young player’s weight in a taunt that wasn’t worthy of an eighth-grade lunch table. Shipnuck talked to one major champion who described Mickelson as “the biggest fraud out here – a total phony,” and another player who told the story of how he introduced his children to Mickelson, who then told them how he tried to emulate how their father conducted himself as a professional. “Made me feel like a million bucks in front of my kids,” the player said.
Mickelson, the huge tipper who pledged his earnings at the PGA Tour’s stop in New Orleans to victims of Hurricane Katrina and when he only won around $80,000, kicked in $250,000 more, but who also was fired by one of the most loyal and hardest-working caddies on the Tour because of a dispute over a percentage of FedEx Cup earnings that were in line with what caddies should be paid.
• Mickelson, justly proud of his record in golf, magnanimous in victory, always holding himself accountable in defeat but being petty enough to turn down the USGA’s Bob Jones Award, one of the highest honors a golfer can receive from one of the governing bodies of the four major championships, because of his on-going feud with the USGA over course set-up at U.S. Opens.
• And Mickelson the fan favorite, who spent an entire career as the most beloved player since Arnold Palmer but has thrown nearly all of that goodwill away because of money, trashing in one interview with Shipnuck the Tour on which he has made nearly $100 million and the upstart tour financed by Saudi oil money that promised him even more riches.
Rich golf life, complicated man
“If readers feel confused and ask themselves, ‘I don’t know if I can like him or not, root for him or not, then I did my job,” said Shipnuck, the author or co-author of eight books and is the most decorated golf writer ever by one measure: he broke the record held by World Golf Hall of Fame member Dan Jenkins with 12 first-place awards in the annual Golf Writers Association of America contest.
“He’s not a simple character,” Shipnuck continued. “He’s complicated, with a lot of contradictions, as we all are. Readers will take from it what they will but it was a fun challenge to try to capture his many sides.”
Shipnuck has many heretofore unwritten details of Mickelson’s background as the great-grandson of Portuguese immigrants who was a golf savant at every level, encouraged by Al Santos, his maternal grandfather who came from hardscrabble roots on Cannery Row, caddied at Pebble Beach for 35 cents a loop, because a tuna fisherman off the coast of San Diego, eventually owned two boats and worked night shifts at a factory give his family the American dream.
Until the day his grandfather died, Mickelson gave him an autographed pin flag of every one of his victories. Mickelson still has a silver dollar his grandfather was paid for caddying at Pebble one day, but never spent.