DUBLIN, Ohio — Having carved out a Hall of Fame career thanks in part to his ability to get out of trouble on the golf course, Phil Mickelson acknowledged that he was “disappointed” to have gotten involved in a legal mess with the government.
He then said that he was focused on moving on.
“I’m pleased that it’s behind me, that it’s over,” Mickelson said. “I’m appreciative of my family and friends and my companies and their faith in me and their support of me.”
Mickelson, 45, a five-time major champion, was ordered to pay back $1.03 million in profits and interest after being named a “relief defendant” in an insider-trading civil suit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against professional gambler Billy Walters and Thomas Davis, the former chief executive of Dean Foods Co.
While a “relief defendant” is not accused of any wrongdoing, Mickelson was cited in the lawsuit for ill-gotten gains because of others’ wrongdoing.
The “others” being Walters and Davis. According to the federal complaint, for a six-year period Davis provided Walters with information about a Dean Foods spin-off. Beyond trading in the stock himself and reportedly making a $32 million profit, Walters allegedly told Mickelson about it. The SEC alleged that Mickelson invested in $2.4 million of Dean Foods stock and sold it a few days later for a profit of $931,000.
The case came to light exactly two years ago at the Memorial Tournament, where Mickelson has come this week to tee it up in first PGA Tour event since The Players Championship. “I knew this was going on (for two years),” Mickelson said. “I’ve known for a while what was going to happen. I’m just glad that I get to move on from that.”
Davis already has pleaded guilty. On the day when Mickelson was meeting the media at the Memorial Tournament, Walters was in a New York court pleading not guilty to the charges. A magistrate judge ordered $25 million bail.
Portions of the lawsuit allege that Mickelson owed Walters a significant amount of money in gambling debts. When asked about PGA Tour bylaws that say players cannot associate with known gamblers, Mickelson took ownership.
“I have to be responsible for the people I associate with,” he said. “Going forward, I’ll make the best effort I can to make sure I represent myself, as well as my family (and) my (sponsors) in the way I want and they deserve.”
The Tour historically does not comment on disciplinary issues with players, but it’s been documented that Walters has been approved by the PGA Tour to play in pro-ams. Does the PGA Tour have to address that issue?
“I’m not singling out anyone,” Mickelson said. “I just think that I need to be more careful, because relationships (with sponsors) mean a lot to me.”
Mickelson said he has not talked with anyone at the PGA Tour regarding possible disciplinary action. “I don’t know anything to even comment on that,” he said.
More than anything, “I’m just glad it’s over,” said Mickelson, whose winless drought is fast approaching three years.
“It feels good that it’s over and it’s passed. I’m ready to move on.”