Having worked in the golf media for over 50 years, I know most of the people who have written books on the sport. I haven’t met Alan Shipnuck, author of the just-released “Phil,’’ which bills itself as “the rip-roaring and unofficial biography of golf’s most colorful superstar.’’ This book has gotten immediate buzz because of Phil Mickelson’s involvement in the controversial Saudi golf league.
Normally I’d be wary of an “unauthorized’’ biography, feeling it might well be a hatchet job of some sort. This one wasn’t. I don’t know that I’d call Mickelson golf’s “most colorful superstar.’’ I lean toward “most interesting’’ or “most complicated.’’ Mickelson certainly fits both of those descriptions.
That’s not really important, though. I found three subjects that Shipnuck addressed most interesting – the recount of Mickelson’s breakup with long-time caddie Jim “Bones’’ Mackay (Shipnuck said Mackay “actually fired Phil’’), the details of Mickelson’s gambling issues (Shipnuck says Mickelson’s losses totaled over $40 million from 2010-14) and, of course, his background on Mickelson’s connections with the Saudis’ golf venture.
That latter is an ongoing saga that factored in Mickelson not playing in either the Masters or the PGA Championship (in which he was the defending champion). Shipnuck provides some perspective on the events that have been prominently reported over the last few months, even though the Saudi league has yet to stage its first tournament.
The Saudi saga requires more time to unfold, and a full explanation for Mickelson taking a break from tournament golf isn’t provided here. There must be more to why he didn’t play in the first two major championships of 2022. Frankly, his absence from the PGA Championship was disappointing to me and an unfortunate distraction to both the championship and the sport overall.
Those subjects are covered in the last 50 pages of the 239-page book. Shipnuck’s ability to shed light on these sensitive subjects is a credit to him. So is his presentation of Mickelson’s great playing career, his exemplary family life and his charitable generosity.
Lots of prominent people in and out of golf have provided anecdotes to Mickelson’s character, and Shipnuck has had plenty of personal experiences with the golfer – even if the book is “unauthorized.’’
Overall Mickelson comes across as a basically good guy who gets stuck in awkward or controversial situations at times – and those times were never more evident than they are right now. Shipnuk’s “Phil’’ keeps it all perspective.