The news that Phil Mickelson had been named in a federal insider-trading lawsuit might have surprised a lot of golf fans. But it didn’t surprise Phil Mickelson.
The five-time major winner addressed the media ahead of the 116th U.S. Open at Oakmont on Wednesday and said that that the Securities and Exchange Commission actually might have helped him in his pursuit of the career grand slam this week. Well, in so many words.
“I’ve actually known for months what was going to happen, and I’m just glad that it finally is out and over with and behind me,” Mickelson said. “It might have something to do with the fact that it’s behind me that I’ve played well the last two weeks, and I feel like I’m playing stress-free and much better golf. That might have something to do with it. I don’t know.”
While Mickelson was not charged with any wrongdoing, the SEC named him as a relief defendant in a civil lawsuit, arguing that he was “unjustly enriched” by a stock tip from infamous sports gambler Billy Walters and ordering him to forfeit over $1 million in “ill-gotten gains” plus interest to the U.S. Treasury. According to the complaint, Mickelson owed a gambling debt to Walters, who directed the golfer to buy Dean Foods stock after allegedly receiving inside information from the company’s former chairman, who was also indebted to Walters.
Mickelson agreed to pay back his profits, and his lawyer said he “takes full responsibility for the decisions and associations that led him to becoming part of this investigation.” Walters, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on $25 million bail.
Asked if he had been scared to be caught up in a federal investigation, Mickelson shrugged.
“I wasn’t worried,” he said. “I’m not worried. It’s behind me. I don’t even think about it.”
Mickelson might not be out of the woods just yet, however. According to the PGA Tour’s player handbook, players should not “associate with or have dealings with persons whose activities, including gambling, might reflect adversely upon the integrity of the game of golf.”
Mickelson declined to say whether the PGA Tour had contacted him about his involvement with Walters or the lawsuit.
“Actually, I’m not going to comment on that,” Mickelson said after a brief pause. “Good question, though, but I’m not going to go there.”
PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw was equally appreciative of the inquiry but similarly tight-lipped on the subject.
“Thanks for asking these questions but we won’t have any comment on any of them,” Votaw said.
Mickelson did have an answer (sort of) for another question he faced Wednesday afternoon. What should we think of the allegation that Mickelson — the eighth-highest paid athlete in the world, long-regarded as a fan-and-sponsor-friendly “everyman” — needed a quick cash infusion to pay off a gambling debt? Does that raise even bigger questions, such as who exactly is Phil Mickelson?
“Well, as I said in the past, I’ve got to be more careful in my associations going forward,” he said. “But I don’t really have much more to add. I mean, I think after a multiple-year investigation which led to nothing, no charges or anything, I think that that kind of says enough for me.”