- Golf writer Alan Shipnuck set the golf world ablaze in February when he published Phil Mickelson’s comments on the coming Saudi Golf League.
- The quotes were a part of Shipnuck’s new biography on Mickelson, “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar.”
- In an interview with Insider, Shipnuck explained his decision to essentially scoop himself by publishing the most fiery quotes from his book three months ahead of publication.
In February the golf world was set ablaze after Alan Shipnuck, longtime Sports Illustrated writer and now part of the Fire Pit Collective, published Phil Mickelson’s astonishing quotes regarding the Saudi Golf League.
Mickelson had been rumored to be one of the centerpieces of the breakaway league that was backed by the Saudi government and set to attempt to challenge the PGA Tour, offering huge, guaranteed paydays to golfers who chose to make the leap to the new league.
“They’re scary motherfuckers to get involved with,” Mickelson had told Shipnuck. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
Their conversation took place in November 2021, just one month after Greg Norman had been introduced as the CEO of the Saudi golf experiment, now called LIV Golf Investments.
At the time, Shipnuck had been working on his biography of Mickelson, “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar,” which was released this week.
Shipnuck had attempted to get Mickelson to speak with him several times in the course of researching his book, but the superstar golfer had passed on the opportunity, until one day in November he called Shipnuck up and offered his true feelings about the breakout league.
Shipnuck could have held on to the fiery quotes until closer to publication day, but instead he decided to make them public in February as rumors of the LIV Golf schedule and players ready to make a move were at their peak. Immediately, Mickelson was the biggest story in golf.
In an interview with Insider, Shipnuck broke down his decision to publish Phil’s comments when he did, and what his life has been like in between releasing that blockbuster excerpt and the publication of his book.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What have the past three months been like for you since you published your conversation with Phil on the Saudi Golf League?
It’s been intense. My job is to tell stories. I don’t really want to be in the middle of one, but it’s just the way this played out. I’ve gotten mixed up into this whole thing in my role to deliver the real story to readers. There’s been a lot coming at me as well. I would say it’s turned my life a little bit upside down — not on the magnitude of Phil Mickelson’s — but I definitely have some empathy for what he’s going through because it’s been a lot on my end as well.
What went into the decision to publish that excerpt when you did? We’ve seen a few books on the Trump administration hold back their biggest stories for publication — other authors might have chosen to save a moment like that for the book.
Those books played a role in my thinking. It always feels a little disingenuous — obviously professional golf pales in comparison to the world events they’re reporting on — but it always feels a little disingenuous to sit on that news that really at the moment would’ve been very valuable for people to understand what’s happening around them. For me as just a reader and observer, it never feels right.
I understand it from a business standpoint — they’re trying to sell books and create that energy around the publication date, but I just felt like professional golf was at such a crossroads, with everything I’d been told. And it turned out to be true — the Saudis were imminently about to announce their plans.
The biggest question in all this was: What does Phil Mickelson want? Nobody really knew except for me, among professional typists. And so I felt like it would’ve been journalistic malpractice not to inform the readers and other stakeholders in the game of what was really happening — Phil’s negotiations of the Saudis, his role in helping them to create this rival tour.
It was a little bit of a battle with Simon and Schuster because they felt like it was too far out from the publication deadline. But I was more concerned with just putting all the cards on the table for everyone in the game to see, and that they could make up their minds about Phil’s role in all of this and just be more informed about, you know, an earthquake in how the game is conducted at the professional level.
Cards on the table feels like a very apt metaphor. It feels like Phil showed you his hand, but he was still playing poker. And you decided, no, these cards are out there now.
For sure. I mean, I’m amazed to this day that Phil called me up and told me everything. But he’s an adrenaline junkie. We know that. And I think that was part of the fun for him. There was a little thrill in sharing this very explosive information with the one person he probably shouldn’t have shared with, who’s actually writing a book about his life about him.
I approached him face-to-face three times and asked him to do interviews for this book, and he thought about it and he declined, and that’s fine. That’s his prerogative of him. But in the end he could not resist the temptation to call me up and tell me how smart he was. How he had gamed the whole system and how he was more clever than [PGA Tour Commissioner] Jay Monahan and more clever than Greg Norman, the mouthpiece for the Saudis. And he was pitting both sides against each other and getting all this leverage and then getting all the things he’s always wanted.
Phil is always battling his own inherent tendencies; he’s always at war with himself. He didn’t want to talk to me. He didn’t talk to me, but in the end he just decided he could help himself. He had to tell me everything. It’s a lot of insight about who he is.
In his public statement, which you can’t call an apology, because he didn’t really apologize, but he used the word “reckless” to describe his actions. And I think that was honestly part of the fun for him, but it baffles me this day that he would ring me up and tell me everything.
Who did you talk with before ultimately making the decision to publish Phil’s comments on the Saudis?
My colleagues at the Firepit Collective. Those were the sort of stakeholders in all of this. But ultimately it was my call, everyone deferred to me. Again, I just felt like I had almost a
duty to, once I knew this information and as the entire world order of professional golf was at stake, I just felt like everyone needed to know what was really happening.
Having read the book, it’s clear that you treat Mickelson with a lot of care. You show all sides of what it means to be Phil Mickelson on the PGA Tour. Were you worried the excerpts out would give people the wrong impression about the book as a whole?
Yeah, that was a concern. We were always gonna do a second excerpt right around publication time, and I went to my editor, Simon and Schuster, and my literary agent, and I said, Why don’t we do a whole chapter about Phil’s virtues and his philanthropy and all his random acts of kindness and all his mentorship to young players? And they said, “Are you crazy? Nobody’s gonna read that. Nobody cares about that.”
It’s kinda like, Oh man, eye roll, but you know, it’s the world we live in. There’s so much clutter, and it’s so hard to get people to pay attention to anything. And so for these excerpts, you wind up writing about the sexiest material. And so, yeah, that was a concern of mine. It’s always been a concern.
Now that the book is officially released, how have the past three days been for you compared to the past four months?
It’s mostly a sense of relief that I’ve felt. There’s some jitter. Anytime you put something out into the world, especially something that has this much energy around it, there’s gonna be some naysayers and some critics, but that’s okay. That’s just apart of it. I’m comfortable with all the decisions I’ve made and then the creation of this book. So I’m just trying to go with the flow.