Phil MIckelson and Tiger Woods at the 2004 Ryder Cup, the first event Mickelson played with Callaway clubs. (Getty Images) According to a column by Larry Dorman at PGATour.com, Callaway investigated Phil Mickelson’s gambling before signing him to an endorsement deal in 2004.
Dorman, who was a senior vice president for Callaway when Mickelson left Titleist for Callaway just before the 2004 Ryder Cup, said that the company was aware that Mickelson liked to gamble, but their investigations showed that he actually won money in Las Vegas and that he had no outstanding debts when he joined the Callaway staff.
Phil had a stellar college career and won 23 PGA TOUR events, including the 2004 Masters, during his successful affiliations with Ping, Yonex and Titleist. He was ranked No. 4 in the world on the Official World Golf Ranking, his Titleist contract was expiring, and he was considering his options with other manufacturers. The month before the Ryder Cup was to be played at Oakland Hills, he signed with Callaway, swayed by the company’s new golf ball and driver combination. The surprise signing and the proximity of the Ryder Cup combined to cause quite an uproar in the media.
Baseless rumors arose in some quarters, questioning Mickelson’s motivation for signing. When I say baseless, I mean totally unfounded, manufactured rumors alleging gambling debts that had no basis in fact. Mickelson did like to gamble at the time, but he had zero outstanding debts and his betting patterns — a stat that Vegas casinos keep — had him even, to slightly up. All the information was checked out by Callaway’s head of investigations, a former head of counterintelligence for the U.S. Army, and no evidence was found to support the claims, either of gambling debt or any other charge.
Dorman told the story in an article about Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in his first outing with new Nike clubs. Mickelson’s first appearance with Callaway clubs was his disastrous pairing with Tiger Woods in the 2004 Ryder Cup. He got over it, and Dorman said the controversy over the switch created publicity for Callaway.
After the Ryder Cup, every golf fan knew what clubs and ball Mickelson was playing. And he has used the tools well in the nine years since, winning 17 times for his current total of 40 victories, including three more majors — two of them Masters — for a total of four.
If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Rory McIlroy will do at least that well in the next nine years, with whatever clubs he chooses to use. I don’t gamble. So I’ll just say it.
A tip of the cap to Geoff Shackelford for pointing out this tidbit in Dorman’s story.