Alan Shipnuck's 'Phil': Peeling Back The Mystery Of An Unparalleled Life In Golf

In 'Phil', author Alan Shipnuck takes you behind the curtain into the life of a golfing legend

Phil Mickelson at the 2004 Masters on the left and at the 2021 PGA Championship on the right
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It was the excerpt to end all excerpts. A story that sent Phil Mickelson, one of golf's most decorated champions, into exile. 

"What does Phil want? It was the biggest question in golf," says Alan Shipnuck, partner at the Firepit Collective and author of 'Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf's Most Colorful Superstar'.

"It really was a defining question for the whole sport and I had the answers already in the book. As they were about to announce the tour, and all this stuff had reached a boil, I just felt like it was journalistic malpractice not to inform the fans and the stakeholders in the game what was really going on."

'The tour' Shipnuck is referring to is, of course, the Greg Norman-led LIV Golf Series, which has been mired in controversy for its links to Saudi Arabia amid accusations that the $255 million eight-event series is merely an attempt to "sportswash" the country's human rights record.

But where some saw immorality, Mickelson saw opportunity. In fact, in a call to Shipnuck late last year, the six-time Major champion admitted to using the Saudi cause as leverage in a bigger battle he had with the PGA Tour over media rights. 

In the now infamous passage, Phil the Thrill described the Saudis as "scary motherf****** to get involved with," before conceding he was willing to look past their "horrible record on human rights" for a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates."

Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman at the draft party for the LIV Golf Invitational London

Phil Mickelson returned from his golfing exile to join the LIV Golf Series and captain the Hy Flyers

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The backlash was swift as the 51-year-old's comments were quickly picked up by hundreds of news outlets. Sponsors, fans and fellow pros turned on the enigmatic left-hander, the publicity magnet who appears intrinsically linked to controversy.

Such was the intensity of the fallout that Shipnuck has been left to wonder whether both of their lives would have been easier had Phil not picked up the phone. But it adds another layer to the complex character that is Philip Alfred Mickelson, a character that is laid a little barer through the ups and downs of what is surely a long overdue biography.

"I went to Phil three times face-to-face to do interviews, and he turned me down. I think it just bothered him that he was doing all this deal-making behind the scenes and in his mind, he totally gamed the system and outsmarted Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, and Greg Norman, the frontman for the Saudis. He just couldn't help himself, he had to call and tell me.

"I knew It was gonna provoke some controversy because Phil's comments were pretty explosive but he's talked his way out of so many jams before, I figured it'd be a two-day story, he'd have a press conference, and all would be forgiven. I never imagined it would send him into a four-month exile.

"It's been intense for me personally. As a reporter, your job is to tell stories, you don't want to really become the story.

"The book was due December 1 and Phil and I spoke Thanksgiving, just like a week before. I mean, the book was done, I was just adding the last coat of polish to it. There was already enough juicy stuff that was going to get attention because of the breakup with [ex-caddie] 'Bones', the insider trading case, the scale of his gambling losses and the real nature of Phil's relationship with Billy Walters, this legendary gambler. So it didn't even really need the juiciness of the Saudi stuff.

"And so it's revealing in its own way about who Phil is and it definitely added such an interesting layer to the end of the book and this late period of his career. I'm glad it was in there because it was a necessary part of the story, but it definitely made the launch very complicated."

Phil Mickelson and ex-caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay at the 2017 Masters at Augusta National

All not as it seems: Phil Mickelson and long-time caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay split in 2017

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Aside from the scandals, just as important to telling the Mickelson story is the philanthropy and acts of generosity that extend beyond the public showmanship. The book starts with a number of leading figures recounting their favourite Phil tale. Some detail his impeccable comedic timing, while others reveal the softer side of the man who has lived more than half of his life in the spotlight.

From ensuring Ryan Palmer's wife received the best care possible after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, to causing an international incident at the 1991 Walker Cup after a trademark errant tee shot into the gallery provoked this one-liner: "That's not a place I want to be. The Irish women are not that attractive." 

As for everything in-between, Shipnuck's portrayal provides a rare glimpse into Phil's often polarising personality. At times, it's a book that has you wishing he could rewrite history and take his place at the table of career grand slam champions; at others, it leaves you in awe at the arrogance that clearly bubbles under and often breaches the surface.

"I'm not here to tell people whether Phil’s a good guy or a bad guy, or how they should feel about him, I just wanted to lay it all out there and let the readers decide what they think. And the reaction has been really interesting, because a lot of people said, 'I like Phil more now after reading the book, he's more human to me' and, 'I didn't know about all these things he's done to help others'. 

"He's also lost some fans because of all this other stuff, too, and I think that tells me I probably did my job. It's not a black and white portrayal, he's much more complex than that. I think you can expect to go on this journey of this really unique character and this unparalleled life in golf. I mean, for more than three decades, he's been one of the best golfers in the world, and one of the biggest stars with an unparalleled run of longevity.

"There's a lot of comparisons between Seve Ballesteros and Phil Mickelson and the way they played the game, but Seve lost his gift when he was still in his 30s. Even Faldo had a great run and picked off that Masters when he was 42. Phil lasted another decade and he's still going strong. 

"He's just been at the front ranks of golf for forever, for the entire living memory of generations of golf fans. You think you know Phil but you really don't and so it's fun to peel back some of the mystery."

Andrew Wright
Staff Writer

A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he went on to enjoy a spell freelancing for Stats Perform producing football reports, and then for RacingNews365 covering Formula 1. However, he couldn't turn down the opportunity to get back into the sport he grew up watching and playing and now covers a mixture of equipment, instruction and news for Golf Monthly's website and print title.

Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.

As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as,, and

What's in Andy's bag?

Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15°)

Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)

Irons: Callaway Apex Pro '19 (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)

Putter: TaylorMade Spider X

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x