“You know, the people were awesome. They were so nice,” Mickelson said after finishing Friday’s second round at the tournament, which included a birdie on the 17th hole. “I would say this: I don’t want to be divisive. I didn’t like the way that felt with the reporter. The people here were so nice that I’ll make a deal with them. There’s a guy, Mike Sullivan, trying to raise 50,000 signatures. If he gets 50,000 and all of those 50,000 agree to do one random act of kindness for another member of the community, I’m in.”
Sullivan, a co-founder of Metro Detroit Golfers, had collected more than 8,000 signatures on the change.org petition as of Saturday afternoon.
Mickelson had told reporters Thursday, “I don’t see me coming back” to the event, which he is competing in for the first time. “Not that I don’t love the people here and they haven’t been great, but not with that type of thing happening.”
According to the Detroit News report, Mickelson’s name appeared recently in the transcript of a 2018 court file related to the 2007 trial of Jack Giacalone, who was alleged to be an organized crime leader in Detroit. In an exchange with a witness for the prosecution, former Las Vegas casino host and bookie “Dandy” Don DeSeranno, an attorney for Giacalone got DeSeranno to admit he failed to pay Mickelson $500,000 in winnings several years earlier, after the golfer had placed a bet with him.
Mickelson, 51, said Thursday that the author of the story “made an article this week that was very opportunistic and selfish, and irresponsible.”
Asked if he would return to the tournament, which is in its third year, Mickelson replied, “It was so much effort for me to be here, and to have that type of unnecessary attack — not like I care, I mean it happened 20-something years ago — but just the lack of appreciation, yeah, I don’t see that happening.”
As a relatively new tournament being staged two weeks after the U.S. Open and two weeks before the British Open, the Rocket Mortgage Classic did not attract a particularly star-studded field outside of Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama. Mickelson, whose win in May at the PGA Championship made him the oldest man to win a major, is easily the top draw and crowd favorite.
In a statement Wednesday, a representative for Mickelson acknowledged that there was nothing in the Detroit News story “that wasn’t true,” but he questioned the newspaper’s judgment in running it.
“Why are you going to embarrass Phil Mickelson, when he’s there to support your tournament and the charities it supports and the [PGA] Tour?” Mickelson’s attorney Glenn Cohen said in the statement, issued to ESPN. “Rocket Mortgage is a Detroit-based company. Phil has never played there before. I’m disappointed they would curiously pick this week to write an article about a bet that was made over 20 years ago and a jury trial that took place in 2007, where the guy who was convicted is dead and where the only purpose for this article is to embarrass Phil Mickelson.”
The editor and publisher of the Detroit News said in comments published Thursday by his newspaper: “It would be disappointing if Phil Mickelson chose to snub Detroit because of a clearly newsworthy story about his past associations. Neither he nor his associates have challenged the veracity of the reporting, which came into focus following a court action last month and was confirmed by his representative just this week.”
Mickelson, who has won six major titles and 45 tournaments overall on the PGA Tour, is one of the most popular players in golf history. Over the years, his revenue from endorsements has reportedly dwarfed his career earnings of more than $94 million. Famed for a crowd-pleasing, swashbuckling golf game, Mickelson is also known for an eagerness to raise the stakes, both on the course and elsewhere.
In a 2017 trial of legendary sports bettor William “Billy” Walters, court documents revealed he was once paid almost $2 million by Mickelson to settle gambling-related debt. During the trial, prosecutors claimed Mickelson, who was not charged with any crimes, profited off stock market maneuvers after receiving tips from Walters.
In the Giacalone trial, defense attorney Neil Fink was attempting to call into question DeSeranno’s credibility by asking if the latter tried to “cheat [Mickelson] out of $500,000.”
“I wouldn’t say I cheated him,” DeSeranno responded, according to the transcript (via the Detroit News).
“What would you call it?” Fink said. “What did you do?”
“I couldn’t pay him,” DeSeranno said.
“You booked his action, correct?” Fink said.
“Yes,” DeSeranno replied.
Cohen told the Detroit News that Mickelson was not aware of DeSeranno’s alleged mob connections when he placed the wager.
“Phil and a bunch of buddies were betting on sports, and they pooled their money and they made a large bet,” Mickelson’s attorney told ESPN. “The bottom line is Phil wasn’t paid. The guy who took the bet turned out to be a crook and Phil didn’t know it. But it’s irrelevant. Whether this guy was the worst human being alive or had anything to do with Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, what is the newsworthiness of this article now? There isn’t any.”
Cohen added that Mickelson “would have no earthly reason whatsoever to make any comment about this,” but the golf superstar had other ideas Thursday.
Mickelson emphasized to reporters that he went out of his way to compete in Detroit, given his focus on the major tournaments amid the grind of the PGA Tour schedule.
“It was a lot for me to play here, because I had won the PGA [Championship], and then I prepared for the U.S. Open, put a lot of time and effort into the U.S. Open,” he said. “I played last week at Hartford, and I’m going to be heading over to the British [Open] soon.
“So, to play here — I wouldn’t normally do it. I usually would take a couple of weeks off after the U.S. Open, but I really liked what Rocket Mortgage has tried to do with this community and get involved. I felt like as a PGA champion, I would be able to bring some value and maybe help the tournament out.”
“It’s very hard to bring people together, and that needs to change, because the people here are great,” Mickelson added. “But when that’s your voice, it’s hard for me or somebody to come in and bring other people and bring other entities involved to help out, because you’re constantly being torn down as opposed to being brought together and built up.”