Tour giving Phil Mickelson special treatment when it should suspend him

OAKMONT, Pa. — On the eve of the 116th U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson returned to Oakmont Country Club after a two-day, cross-country trek back home to California to see his daughter graduate from eighth grade.

That's the Phil Mickelson golf fans have fallen in love with over the last two decades: the expecting father losing the U.S. Open by a stroke the day before his first child was born; the doting husband to his cancer-stricken wife; and the dutiful father of three who not once but twice has skipped out of practice rounds for the U.S. Open to attend a child's eighth-grade graduation.

He's a good guy … a good guy who, if the PGA Tour were following its own rules, wouldn't be playing in any PGA Tour event this year or next.

Phil Mickelson (left) and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem (Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson (left) and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem (Getty Images)

On Page 147 of the PGA Tour Player Handbook, in the Conduct of Players section, there is a list of things players shall not do. No. 3 on that list, all of which are "subject to a suspension from tournament play for a minimum of two seasons," states the following:

"Associate with or have dealings with persons whose activities, including gambling, might reflect adversely upon the integrity of the game of golf."

Billy Walters is such a person. In fact, if there were only one person on earth who fit this description, it might be Billy Walters.

"For almost four decades, Walters, now 68, is thought to have bet more money more successfully than anyone in history, earning hundreds of millions of dollars," Mike Fish wrote in an exhaustive feature of Walters for ESPN The Magazine in 2015. "Federal and state investigators sniff around his operation regularly. Scores of bettors and bookies have tried to crack his methods so they can emulate him. Even Walters' employees … have tried to figure him out so they can win alongside him. Walters has outrun them all."

This is the man at the center of the Securities and Exchange Commission's investigation that ensnared Mickelson. According to the investigation, Walters got a stock tip from former Dean Foods chairman, Thomas Davis, in late July of 2012. Walters then shared the tip with his golfing buddy, Mickelson, supposedly so Mickelson could invest, make a quick buck, then pay back a gambling debt he owed Walters.

(Hard to imagine Mickelson, who according to Forbes earned $52.9 million last year, needed a stock tip to pay back a debt, but who knows?)

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According to the SEC, on July 30 and 31, Mickelson invested $2.4 million in Dean Foods. To that point, his stock portfolio was $250,000. Mickelson unloaded his shares of Dean Foods on Aug. 8, 2012, at a profit of $931,000.

For his part, Walters, now 69, was indicted in May for insider trading. He's currently free on $1 million bond. Mickelson was more fortunate, as the SEC did not implicate him in its criminal case, rather named him as a "relief defendant" in a civil suit, which essentially means the SEC wants the money he made back.

"Simply put, Mickelson made money that wasn't his to make," said Andrew Ceresney, the SEC's director of enforcement.

Here's guessing Mickelson quickly cut the SEC a check for $1.05 million ($931,000 plus interest), happy to be out of its crosshairs.

"I'm just glad that it finally is out and over with and behind me," Mickelson said Wednesday at Oakmont.

"I've got to be more careful in my associations going forward and so forth," he added. "But I don't really have much more to add. I mean, I think after a multiple-year investigation which led to nothing, no charges or anything, I think that that kind of says enough for me."

Apparently writing a million-dollar check for making money he wasn't supposed to make is nothing. And apparently PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is as equally unbothered.

When asked in late May about the Mickelson situation, Finchem punted like he was Ray Guy.

"I have not spoken to him [Mickelson], but I have no comment about anything else at this point in time," Finchem said.

So let's get this straight: One of your top players, maybe your most high-profile player outside of Tiger Woods, is looped into a federal investigation involving insider trading with one of if not the world's most notorious gamblers; said investigation alleges a gambling debt between your player and the notorious gambler; said player, a millionaire many times over, has a stock portfolio totaling $250,000 and suddenly invests $2.5 million in a random food and beverage company, then sells said stock a few days later for a million-dollar profit … and you have nothing to say?

"No, I don't have any comment right now."

This from the guy who once suspended John Daly for six months for essentially being John Daly – goofing off on the course and spending a night in the drunk tank.

It's laughable and reeks of special treatment.

Is Phil Mickelson a nice guy? Sure. Is he good for the game of golf? Without question. Would it be an unfortunate end to a hall-of-fame career to suspend him? You bet.

But it says it right there in the PGA Tour's own handbook: don't hang out with known gamblers and, if they'd thought of it, they probably would have included a picture of Billy Walters along with the caption, "Especially this guy!"

In saying nothing, Tim Finchem is essentially telling every other player there are no rules when it comes to the PGA Tour. Really, when he's facing a tap-in like this one, how can he ever enforce anything else?

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