Phil Mickelson's 'Embarrassing' Gambling Problems Brought to Light

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This page is written by
Matthew Gover
Matthew GoverGolfing Specialist
Fact checked by
Rebecca Mackay
Rebecca MackayHead of Content
According to our Editorial Guide

Providing that we are not going to talk about Tiger Woods, you will find it hard to argue that anyone has significantly impacted modern golf more than Phil Mickelson. From the outside, it might look like winning 6 majors is the contributing factor to his fame, but arguably, it is his X factor that had so many sponsors and golfing fanatics eating out of his hand. However, a few questionable decisions surrounding the breakaway LIV golf tour means that Mickelson's relationship with the golfing public is not what it once was. For golf purists, he currently has the tag of being public enemy number one. Recent revelations about his gambling habits have only helped fuel a more negative image of this once championed golfer.

What you might not know is that the Securities and Exchange Commission claimed that in the early part of the last decade the left-handed golfer made nearly 7 figures on a stock tip from well-renowned gambler Billy Walters. Mickelson used this money to pay off a gambling debt he had for Walters which was accumulated over several golf rounds (Walters and Mickelson are notorious for placing wagers on the golf course). Walters was perhaps the most famous sports gambler in the world but found himself in hot water when it was discovered that some of his stock successes were due to insider information from influential contacts that he made. An act which is illegal to act upon in the United States of America.

Phil mickelson pga winner
Phil Mickelson proudly showed off the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 103rd PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Golf Resort Ocean Course in South Carolina. 23rd May 2021. Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News   

They say only gamble with what you can afford, but in gambling, a more apt piece of advice would be to not bet with any amount of money that would leave you with a sinking feeling. In his biography, it was reported in SEC documents between 2010-14 that Mickelson lost more than $40 million. This would have represented more than a fair percentage of the money he made during this period. It is hard to imagine that anybody would feel okay about this despite Mickelson still being incredibly wealthy.

Why do we know about this now?

Mickelson has experienced a fall from grace. This comes after news broke that he accepted a contract from LIV Golf allegedly worth $250 million. At first glance, it might seem obvious why someone would be so tempted to accept such money but putting his reputation at such risk considering the money he has made in his career has led many to think of ulterior motives. 

His comments regarding the human rights issues of Qatar faced the most criticism as he criticized the PGA tour where in truth most would consider golfers to be among some of the most fairly paid athletes in the world with some minor events having prize purses well into the millions. For example, Rory Mcilroy won the first even after LIV Golf, the Canadian Open, far from being a major event on the golfing calendar and bagged himself over $1.5 million.

The sad thing is that Mickelson admits that he wishes people didn't know about the extent of his gambling problems, and in a few interviews has described his gambling issues as embarrassing. Here are a few comments that he made recently.

Phil Mickelson The Open at The Royal St George's Golf Club
USA's Phil Mickelson chips on to the sixth green during day two of The Open at The Royal St George's Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent. Picture date: Friday, July 16, 2021. Source: Richard Sellers.
Gambling has been part of my life ever since I can remember, but about a decade ago is when I would say it became reckless. It’s embarrassing. I don’t like that people know. The fact is I’ve been dealing with it for some time. Amy has been very supportive of it and with me and the process. We’re at a place after many years where I feel comfortable with where that is. It isn’t a threat to me or my financial security. It was just a number of poor decisions.

This gave a lot of context to his apology for his human rights comments, where he said for the last decade, he has been working on himself. For a lot of golf fanatics, these comments did seem a little odd as up until this breakaway tour Mickelson was generally regarded as one of the most popular golfers on tour. 

It is important to note that although by his own admission, he gambled with way too much money, his financial security has never come under any threat and it is possible that this payday from Liv golf is just a tempting offer for a golfer who is past his prime and sees it as a great way to make up for some of his bad financial decisions from the past. Regardless of LIV golf or not, he is not in a position where he would feel the need to scrap for pennies.

The extent of his gambling addiction

Even though he still has millions to play with doesn't of course, mean that his addiction wasn't out of control. A major sign of having an addiction is when you put off other things or pay attention to your habit when all of your focus should be on doing something else. For a gambling addict, it is not so much a financial investment as it is a time investment. You could be betting money you can technically afford for example, but it can be having a really negative impact on all aspects of your life.

Some reports suggest that Mickelson was so into the betting that at one point, he was listening to games on the course. Steve Flesch recounts a golf tournament he played at the beginning of the century with him.

 He could not have cared any less about what we were doing on the golf course. He was definitely more concerned about who was winning the football games and who was covering the spread.

One very interesting story is that he, after finishing his round, was watching Jim Furyk in the player's lounge, and he told everyone that he would pay out 25-1 at $20,000 if Furyk made a bunker shot. Canadian golfer Mike Weir took up this offer and amazingly had to pay him $500,000 after Furyk made the shot. This got Mickelson in trouble with golfing authorities as it is not legal for any player to have a financial incentive based on the performance of another golfer. This only resulted in a warning, though, as there was no suspicion that he had any influence over his bets.

What's Next for Phil Mickelson?

It is likely that history will be a lot kinder to Phil Mickelson than the present currently is. We for one hope that he can truly recover from any personal problems that he has experienced and can go on to have a happy end to his career. He will be ultimately remembered as a six-time major champion who was one of the most thrilling golfers ever to grace the game. The guy could do anything with a club and golf will at some time in the near future adapt to recent developments and his involvement will probably go on to be seen as less significant. 

Golf - The 2020 Ryder Cup - Whistling Straits, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, U.S. - September 26, 2021 Team USA vice captain Phil Mickelson, Team USA's Jordan Spieth and Team USA's Brooks Koepka celebrate with champagne after winning The Ryder Cup, Source: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.
Team USA vice-captain Phil Mickelson, Team USA's Jordan Spieth and Team USA's Brooks Koepka celebrate with champagne after winning The Ryder Cup, 26th September 2021.Source: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 

The same will go towards these gambling revelations. He is understandably embarrassed by some of his actions being made public but we are all becoming more aware of the evils of gambling addiction and in today's society celebrities are more likely to be celebrated for acknowledging their flaws. Hopefully, there is a forgiving route back for Mickelson as seeing such a fall from grace is never nice to see.

Do not hesitate to seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing troubles with gambling.

Golf Expert

Matthew is our resident golf betting expert! He's been a content writer for the past seven years.

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