Competitive Integrity Problem On Tour?

Phil BunkerDid anyone catch Phil Mickelson’s comments on NBC after Sunday’s final round in the Shell Houston Open?  I believe it was Jimmy Roberts who interviewed Phil and asked him how he felt since he was close but couldn’t close the deal in Houston.  He added were there any takeaways that Phil could share about his game heading into next week’s Masters?  Phil indicated that he basically mismanaged his game on purpose so he could hit some tee shots under game conditions that he would need next week at Augusta.  He added that if he were trying to win at Houston, he would have played more 3-woods instead of drivers off the tee because the fairways narrow considerably around 300 yards.  He said the reason for this was that he was preparing for the cut tee shots with the driver he’d need on several holes at The Masters, most notably on #13.  Phil was actually using this tournament as four practice rounds for Augusta.

When I first heard this I thought, “Phil is a smart guy; he knows how to prep for a major and that’s why he’s already won three Masters.”  Then while I was enjoying the aftermath of Jim Herman’s hard fought one-shot victory over Henrik Stenson, I began to think;  Herman and Stenson battled hard for this title, and so did Dustin Johnson.  Since golf is basically self-policed, with each player calling violations on themselves and attempting to protect the field and thus the integrity of the competition, shouldn’t players in the field be obligated to try their hardest to win at all times?  Not trying your hardest might skew the result in an odd way and have negative downstream effects.  For example, what if on the strength of his victory, Herman made the Ryder Cup team.  If Phil had played to win and defeated Herman, someone else may have made the team.

In organized team sports, at the end of the season, teams sometimes rest their star players; I get that.  However, I’ve never heard the players on the field in any sport admitting to not giving anything less than 100% effort to try and win.  And this was certainly not a case of easing off the gas at the end of a blow out game so as to not run up the score on an opponent.  Does this strike you as odd?  Even though it may be done by others, are you okay with a competitor admitting to not trying to win?  I wonder how Jim Herman might feel. . . I’m a huge Phil fan but am interested to know your thoughts on this.


11 thoughts on “Competitive Integrity Problem On Tour?”

  1. A very interesting post, Brian
    I’m not sure what my take is on this. I’m convinced all players want to perform their best and Phil did too, but within some unique circumstances which I just don’t think you’d see all that often. There must be a reason why he uses Houston as a place to prepare versus extra warm up rounds at Augusta. My guess is the competitive nature of the event along with his own preparations combine to make sense for him. I have no issue with his own unique plan. If he was leading with 9 holes to play, my guess is he’d alter his preparations and play for the win. A very interesting and thought provoking post. Enjoy the Masters.
    Cheers, Mike

    1. Mike, I appreciate your perspective. I also believe Phil did nothing wrong in his heart but Tim Finchem cannot be happy about this given Phil’s reputation for gambling. The Tour tries to keep a squeaky clean image but money is wagered on professional golf. If a competitor has an influence on the outcome and willingly admits to not trying his best, the appearance of impropriety is there. Phil probably should have said, “I made a couple mental mistakes off the tee,” and nobody would have given it a second thought. We’ll see if it develops into something or just goes away.

      Play well!


  2. Brian,

    I watched the interview and I can see how you wonder if Phil Mickelson’s heart was in this event, but I think I agree with Mike that if he was in the hunt, he would have played to win. His choice of words might not have been the best, but I did not see any intended slight on the PGA Tour or the Shell Houston Open.

    I see his strategy as a solid one. Championships in sports are the pinnacle of every player’s career. In golf, the greatness of a player is measured by how many Majors they have won. Mickelson has 5 and wants number 6. Mickelson’s position as one of the all time greats is secure, now it is all about moving up in the list by winning a few more Majors. I akin Mickelson’s actions as the same as a hockey team resting their top players before making a run in the playoffs.

    I do believe that professional athletes have an obligation to entertain, that is about it for me. Mickelson definitely does that when he hits the links. I do not see anything wrong with how he approached last weekends event. Just my 2 cents.


    1. Jim, very salient point of view. I’ll bet Phil’s been preparing for The Masters in this fashion for years. Probably just a poor choice of words and I think there was no attempt to slight the tournament. Probably will blow over or nothing will come of it.



  3. Hi Brian, initially I thought the same as you, but now I believe it was just a poor choice of words that Phil used. What he was really saying was that he tried to win this tournament using the driver instead of a 3 wood, because of the conditions for next week.

  4. My thought is that he would have been fine if he hit the driver straighter. He mentioned strategy to hit three wood since hazards pinch in around 300 yards. Not hitting driver is a strategy as well as hitting it is one the other way. Didn’t bother me at all.

  5. Brian,

    Interesting point. I think it is an unwritten rule (or maybe it is written somewhere), that professional golfers are expected to always give full effort. I know in the handicap manual, it explicitly states this, because not giving it 100% is essentially sandbagging. The consequences in professional golf are different, but I think the idea should still apply. Phil should be careful since those actions definitely undermine the event.


    1. Josh, I agree and I’m not sure where this is going. Thought it might blow over but Golf Digest just picked up on it. We’ll see.

      Thanks and enjoy The Masters!


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