Legendary golfer Phil Mickelson caused a firestorm in February when he publicly slammed the Saudi government for its “horrendous” human rights record. He admitted he would be complicit in “sportswashing” by taking part in the Saudis’ new LIV golf tour, but agreed to do so because it presented “a unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour works.”
Mickelson apologized for his comments, but many of his sponsors backed away from him or dropped him. He then disappeared from public view for months. Alan Shipnuck, a Jewish sportswriter from Carmel, watched in amazement as the controversy unfolded. Mickelson made his comments to Shipnuck during a November interview for his new book, “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar.”
“Phil said the quiet part to me out loud a lot, so I was impressed because this franchise is rare among professional athletes,” the former Sports Illustrated writer and author of seven other books told J. sport. “I thought he would hold a press conference and talk about coming out of this controversy. I thought it would be a two-day story. I never imagined it would multiply into what he did. ( Mickelson claimed the interview was off-the-record, but Shipnuck countered that they had no such deal.)
Since the hubbub involving Mickelson, Shipnuck, 49, has seen his profile rise in the sports world. At last month’s US Open in Brookline, Mass., he said he was being recognized by far more golf fans than usual.
“I always go out and walk on the golf course, and very occasionally in the past, maybe once a day, someone in the gallery would say something to me,” Shipnuck said. “At this US Open, it was very confusing because it was happening on every hole, kind of over and over. I was really blown away.”
Growing up in Salinas, Shipnuck played baseball and golf (he was introduced to the sport by his mother’s boyfriend, Barbara). He celebrated Jewish holidays with his sister and mother, who was the first woman to serve on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and, until her death earlier this year, the president of his local National Council chapter. Jewish women. “I was immersed in the culture of Judaism, especially with my grandmother and my great-aunt,” he said. “They spoke in Yiddish, so it was in the air around me. We went every summer to my grandmother’s house in Brooklyn, where we went to the synagogue and to the delicatessens.
While covering golf wasn’t his original interest – in high school he wrote about football for his local newspaper, the Salinas Californian – it was there that he found an opportunity.
In 1991, during the summer before enrolling at UCLA, Shipnuck worked as a “cart boy” at the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links in Monterey County. With easy access to the golf course, he became more serious about the game and crossed paths with someone who would eventually give him his first big opportunity in sports journalism: Mark Mulvoy, then editor of Sports Illustrated.
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“For two years I sent him letters every few months, saying something like, ‘Dear Mr Mulvoy, I have now been covering women’s rugby for [UCLA’s student newspaper] the Daily Bruin.’ This guy ran the biggest magazine in the world and had no use for an undergraduate,” Shipnuck said. “He never answered my letters, but I kept sending them.”
Two years later, in 1993, Shipnuck finds himself in Pebble Beach anticipating the arrival of Mulvoy. He did not miss the opportunity to reconnect with his idol.
“Mulvoy was like, ‘Oh, you’re the little prick who sent me all the letters,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s me.'”
Shipnuck’s persistence paid off. Mulvoy offered him an internship in Manhattan, which caused the California boy to temporarily drop out of UCLA. SI interns have rarely been offered the opportunity to write stories, but Shipnuck scored a cover story about baseball player Ken Griffey Jr.
After returning to UCLA and earning a degree in mass communications, Shipnuck became SI’s youngest writer. “Me and Tiger Woods turned pro the same year, 1996,” he said.
“Phil,” Shipnuck’s book on Mickelson, delivers juicy revelations, including new details about Mickelson’s gambling losses and his split from longtime caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay. The book also discusses Mickelson’s penchant for doing random acts of kindness.
In addition to the PGA Tour, Shipnuck now covers the LIV Golf tour (which he says is too important to ignore) for his media company Fire Pit Collective, which launched last year. He is also working on a new book about this emerging chapter in professional golf and key stakeholders, including former President Donald Trump, whose golf courses will host LIV events.
At LIV Golf’s inaugural event last month in London, Shipnuck was kicked out of a press conference (“without cause”, he said) as LIV Golf’s CEO and Commissioner looked on impassively. Greg Norman.
Through it all, Shipnuck said he kept a positive attitude. “My life is always about taking care of my kids, walking my dog, seeing friends and trying to improve my golf swing,” he said.