Review: “Phil,” by Alan Shipnuck

“Phil” is not a drive-by character assassination. Shipnuck generally admires Mickelson, and takes note of his philanthropy, his sunny disposition, his deadpan wit, his many acts of random kindness and the fact that he’s not a sore loser.

Shipnuck digs more deeply into Mickelson’s gambling than anyone has so far. His addiction has led him to grow tight with dubious characters. He bets on football so heavily, Mickelson told a friend, that his bets “might move the line.” His gambling losses totaled more than $40 million from 2010 to 2014, according to documents reviewed by one of Shipnuck’s sources. The author therefore wonders if Mickelson needed that Saudi money.

Credit…Abigail Shipnuck

Mickelson was born in San Diego in 1970. His father was a commercial airline pilot and a golf fanatic. The family had a big backyard with a putting green and room for 40-yard pitches. Mickelson practiced deep into the night. “There was no swing analysis, no computer spitting out spin rates,” Shipnuck writes, “just a very curious boy digging the game’s secrets out of the dirt.”

By the time he was in high school, Mickelson was a networker and a schmoozer, Shipmuck writes, albeit a bit of a nerd. He didn’t drink; he wore garish Sansabelt slacks and polo shirts with their collars popped and elaborate belt buckles and visors.

He attended Arizona State University, where his team won the national title. His tee shots stayed in the air forever, people said, as if they were Frisbees. Mickelson was a psychology major, and he likes mental gamesmanship.

This seems creepy only once, when he talks about wooing the woman who would become his wife, Amy Mickelson. He took her to a suspenseful movie, he says, and at a critical moment rubbed her hand so that “she would displace her fear as arousal or attraction for me. And that’s how I was able to, when I didn’t have as much to work with, land such a gem.”

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