2003: Newsmakers - Mickelson stunned by uproar

By Dave Seanor

Pebble Beach, Calif.

Reaction to Phil Mickelson’s claim that Tiger Woods is being held back by “inferior” Nike equipment was a mix of incredulity, mirth, anger and “No comment; I don’t want to get in the middle of that one.”

Mickelson’s remark was made during a December 2002 interview that appears in the March issue of Golf magazine.

“In my mind, Tiger and I don’t have issues between us,” Mickelson told interviewer Peter Kessler, the former Golf Channel host. “Well, maybe one. He hates that I can fly it past him now. He has a faster swing speed than I do, but he has inferior equipment. Tiger is the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he’s stuck with.”

Mickelson is paid to use Titleist clubs and balls. Woods, a former Titleist player, endorses Nike Golf equipment.

Mickelson’s remark drew the immediate ire of Nike Golf president Bob Wood, who called the comment “ludicrous.”

A Nike news release characterized Mickelson’s assertion as “not only laughable, but completely unsupported by the facts. Our Tour staff . . . trusts its game, its livelihood, to Nike Golf. Suggesting that they would play anything less than the best equipment is a slap in their face.”

Nike’s release further noted that although the company has only just entered its second year in the club business, its equipment already has figured in 16 victories and 52 top-10 finishes on the PGA, Nationwide and PGA European tours.

Mickelson said the tone and context of his comment was misunderstood. Those who were present at the interview – Kessler, Mickelson and his Gaylord Sports Management publicist T.R. Reinman – insisted that the mood was “jocular” when Mickelson uttered his ill-chosen words.

“That quote came during one of the lightest moments of the session,” said Kessler. “He was giggling; it was fun. I know the context he meant it in. It was meant to be a compliment to Woods, and it happened to include a slight knock on Nike.”

At the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Mickelson said he regretted that the quote was misconstrued, but saw no reason to apologize to Woods.

“There certainly was no negativity (meant),” Mickelson said.

“Not only that one particular quote, but the whole article was very positive towards him.”

Mickelson said he was stunned to learn of the uproar his remark created.

“When T.R. called, it was like, ‘Hey, ah, remember this?’” Mickelson said. To which Mickelson’s response was: “Oh really? That’s great. Just what I need, the world’s greatest sports marketing company coming after me.”

Woods’ only public comment as of Feb. 9 was contained in a letter that appeared on TigerWoods.com. “I heard it was said in fun and jest, but until I talk to him, I really don’t know,” Woods wrote. “When I find out, I’ll get a better perspective.”

Reached at his home Feb. 9, five days after news of the Mickelson interview broke, Nike’s Wood offered a fresh take.

“The important thing for everyone to understand is that this is not Tiger vs. Phil,” he said. “Tiger has nothing to do with this.”

Mickelson’s remark did, however, oblige Wood to defend the Nike brand.

“He called our product inferior,” Wood said. “Nobody from Nike is going to take that sitting down. Any way you slice it, he was completely out of bounds.

“When we’re challenged, we’re going to respond. It would be irresponsible not to."

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