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Phil Mickelson Sure Loves To Gamble, Possibly To His Own Detriment

David Becker/Getty Images

Gambling is everywhere now. One of my regional sports networks, NBC Sports Washington, airs a second, simultaneous broadcast of Wizards games—Wizards games—that is dedicated to gambling on the action. You cannot tune to a live sports event on the television anymore without seeing a dozen ads for online sportsbooks and betting apps. The portions of Sports Twitter that have not already morphed into Sports NFT Twitter are slowly morphing into Sports Gambling Twitter. The shift is distressing! Gambling can be a dangerous habit, the kind of thing that screws up a person's life in big permanent ways. I do not like to think of the effects of this constant bombardment of gambling content on a person who is vulnerable to this particular temptation.

Anyway, golfer Phil Mickelson has made an estimated $800 million in career and sponsorship earnings. His plunge into Greg Norman's Saudi-backed Super Golf League, with its first event in June, is likely to make him even wealthier. It would take degeneracy of world-historic proportions for Mickelson's gambling losses to even knock him out of the tier of the mega-rich, let alone put him into the poorhouse. Nevertheless, if newly excerpted details from Alan Shipnuck's forthcoming unauthorized Mickelson biography are accurate, "Lefty" does more gambling than is advisable, and possibly is not very good at it. According to Shipnuck, government auditors documented gambling losses over a four-year period that reached into the middle-eight digits:

The massive scale of Mickelson’s gambling losses has never before been made public, but, as noted in the book, during the Billy Walters insider trading investigation, government auditors conducted a forensic examination of Phil’s finances. According to a source with direct access to the documents, Mickelson had gambling losses totaling more than $40 million in the four-year period (2010–14) that was scrutinized. In those prime earning years, his income was estimated to be just north of $40 million a year. That’s an obscene amount of money, but once he paid his taxes (including the California tariffs he publicly railed against), he was left with, what, low-20s? Then he had to cover his plane and mansion(s), plus his agent, caddie, pilots, chef, personal trainer, swing coaches and sundry others. Throw in all the other expenses of a big life—like an actual T. Rex skull for a birthday present—and that leaves, what, $10 million? Per the government audit, that’s roughly how much Mickelson averaged in annual gambling losses. (And we don’t know what we don’t know.) In other words, it’s quite possible he was barely breaking even, or maybe even in the red. And Mickelson’s income dropped considerably during his winless years from 2014 to ’17.

Alan Shipnuck, The Fire Pit Collective

If that seems like an impossibly gargantuan sum of money to lose on gambling, consider that Mickelson's business manager once confirmed in a sworn statement that in 2012 Mickelson made a $1.95 million payment to Billy Walters—a noted professional gambler who famously blamed Mickelson for his insider-trading conviction and five-year prison sentence—to cover a gambling debt, and that Phil had owed and paid off "similar debts to Mr. Walters in the past." In 2016, a man named Gregory Silveira was sentenced to a year in prison for acting as a middleman and wiring $2.7 million from a "gambling client," who ESPN identified as Mickelson, to "an illegal gambling operation," reportedly to cover a gambling debt.

In February Shipnuck reported some of Mickelson's ill-advised comments on the Saudi-financed breakaway golf league, and it cost the golfer pretty dearly, in the form of lost sponsorships and self-imposed exile from the PGA Tour. Mickelson has not yet indicated whether he'll defend his title at the PGA Championship later this month, but his golf career will resume soon enough: The Telegraph reported in April that the PGA Tour believes Mickelson has received at least $24 million in upfront payments to participate in eight events for the new LIV Golf Invitational series, each of which offers $20 million in prize money. That's a lot of college basketball parlays.

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