PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Trouble seems to find Phil Mickelson more often than it does any other professional golfer, with the possible exception of Tiger Woods. With Mickelson, though, the issues carry greater significance than the salacious missteps of Woods in years past.
Mickelson has a history of skirting the legal lines.
Seven years ago, Mickelson received a tip via text message from Billy Walters, a gambler and friend from Las Vegas, to buy stock in Dean Foods. The origin of the tip may or may not have been known by Mickelson, but on July 30-31, 2012, Mickelson purchased a total of $2.4 million in Dean Foods shares. On Aug. 7, he pocketed $931,000 when the dairy company announced a spinoff of a major subsidiary.
After federal securities investigators probed the ill-gotten gains, Mickelson paid back $1.03 million, which represented the profit and interest. He was classified as a relief defendant and was not charged with any crime. He maintained that he was an innocent bystander to the fraud perpetrated by Walters and the source of the tip, Tom Davis, then chairman of Dean Foods. Walters and Davis served time in federal prison.
The first time Mickelson discussed the matter in public, soon after the story broke, was after the first round of the 2016 Memorial Tournament. He took no responsibility for the legal transgression.
“Well, I have to be responsible for the people I associate with,” Mickelson said. “Going forward, I'll make the best effort I can to make sure I represent myself, as well as my family, as well as my companies, in the way that I want to, and they deserve.”
Less than three years later, Mickelson and his family find themselves in the middle of another fraudulent activity.
Like many families of means, Phil and Amy Mickelson used William “Rick” Singer’s college consulting company, The Key Worldwide, to help their three children find their best college fit. The Mickelsons’ oldest child, Amanda, 19, is a sophomore at Brown. Their other two children, Sophia, 17, and Evan, 15, attend high school in California.
On his website, Singer, of Newport Beach, Calif., claims that in his 20 years in the business, he has coached, counseled or mentored 90,000-plus clients.
On Thursday after the first round of the Players Championship here, Mickelson was left to explain his involvement with another associate involved in a fraudulent scheme. This time, it was Singer, the mastermind who pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering conspiracy and other federal charges in a college-admissions scandal that has rocked schools and implicated wealthy families across the country.
“Along with thousands of other families, [we] hired his company to help us guide through the college-application process,” Mickelson said. “We're probably more shocked than anyone, and we have been dealing with it the last few days.”
Like the Dean Foods scandal, Mickelson has taken the position of being an innocent victim. Nothing in the legal filings suggests that the Mickelsons are anything other than guiltless individuals, just trying to do the best for their family.
Mickelson confirmed that he has worked with Singer and his company for three years for all three of his children, but never was asked or did he pay any money in perpetration of Singer’s fraud.
“Schools are like fighting to get them,” Mickelson said of his children. “I hate to I say that as a proud dad, but their grades and their outside activities and their worldly views on things have colleges recruiting them.”
Proud dad or not, Mickelson clearly is not the best judge of character. His goal of not getting involved with questionable people, as he said he would attempt to do three years ago at the Memorial, has failed.
On the golf course, Mickelson plays with an aggressive, gambling style. More often than not, he has pulled off the shot in a career highlighted by 44 victories and $90.2 million in earnings on the PGA Tour. This second brush with fraudulent schemes has to make you pause.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli