Lee Trevino was once asked about the pressure in some gaudy PGA tournament he was playing and recalled his days husting golf in Texas, "You don't know what pressure is,” he famously said, "until you've played for $5 a hole with only $2 in your pocket."
Phil Mickelson will see that and raise it.
When he teed off shortly before eight this morning, Mickelson was aiming at a U.S. Open Championship. Winning would put him in pretty celestial golfing company as one of only six golfers to have won all four major championships (Master, Open, U.S. Open, & PGA Championship) in a career. The others are Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen, and Tiger Woods. Notice the names that are not on that list. Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead, among others.
So Mickelson has reason to feel just a little more pressure than usual. And, then, there is this other matter. The FBI is on his case. Which is the sort of thing that puts a four foot come-backer in perspective.
Mickelson is being investigated for insider trading. Seems the allegations are that he may have made some trades based on a tip he got while on the golf course. Something, you think, even ordinary golfers do and usually more of a blunder than a crime.
Mickelson, of course, is no ordinary golfer. And, as the New York Times reports, the guy he allegedly got the tip from has been called “the most successful sports bettor in America.” And the guy he got his tip from is Carl Icahn who got rich by being smarter than most when it comes to the market. Icahn buys and sells companies based on what he thinks they are truly worth and his ideas in these matters are better than just about anyone’s. Twenty billion, or so, better.
The crime of “insider trading” is pretty elusive, but the rationale seems to be that rich guys shouldn’t be able to make a killing from knowing things before everyone else does. That we should all be equally smart – or dumb – when it comes to the playing the market.
Mickelson is well known – and well liked – for being a gambler on the course. Nobody takes chances like Mickelson. Doing so has won him a Masters and lost him an Open. (More than one, actually.) Fans call him “Phil the Thrill,” and their war cry is, “Go for it.”
He is also known to make a wager, which enhances an already colorful image.
Now the government scalp-hunters are going after him in an investigation that has been going on for three years. As the Times reports, investigators had:
... hoped to scare [him] into cooperating. As one of America’s most popular athletes, Mr. Mickelson had much to lose under the glare of the government’s spotlight.
… when the F.B.I. approached Mr. Mickelson — first pulling him off a plane at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey last year, the people said, and then confronting him ... at a golf tournament in Ohio — Mr. Mickelson had little to offer. In the airport discussion last year, which lasted no more than an hour, the people said, Mr. Mickelson pledged to cooperate but explained that he did not know Mr. Icahn and had no clue that the stock tips might have been improper.
So far this year, Mickelson’s game has been off. And, he has a history of coming up just short in the U.S. Open. He has never won this tournament. Finished second, though, a record six times after finding all sorts of ways to lose, most famously by pulling driver on the finishing hole at Winged Foot in 2006 when he could have won playing safe. Instead, his tee shot was so far off line it wound up in a hospitality tent. He doubled the hole and finished … second.
Pinehurst, where the tournament is being played this year is a course that should be kind to his game and where he almost won a U.S. Open in 2009. But Payne Stewart drained a winner on 18 and Mickelson finished … second.
Mickelson may or may not lie awake at night wishing Stewart’s shot had lipped out, that he had hit a three wood at Winged Foot, that …
He will need to bury those images when he is on the course at Pinehurst, starting Thursday. No distractions. None of those stray thoughts that creep into the mind when you are standing over a four-footer and that are the ruin of many a golfer. Little things can cause you to lose focus. Little things, like for instance … being the subject of an FBI investigation.
But Mickelson is a pro. So perhaps he can avoid worrying that he might suffer the same fate as the notorious Martha Stewart.
And if he wins, he can tell even Lee Trevino a little something about playing under pressure.