Life around Phil Mickelson has seldom been dull and last week was no exception when the five-times major winner featured in reports linking him to an illegal gambling operation.
That subject and Donald Trump’s controversial comments about Mexican migrants arose on Wednesday at Gullane, where Mickelson is the leading figure at the Scottish Open in Rory McIlroy’s absence.
A story published in the US last week tied Mickelson’s name to a $2.75m gambling and money-laundering scheme which has led to one man being charged. Mickelson is not under investigation and there is no suggestion he has done anything wrong, but this was publicity he could presumably have done without.
“People are going to say things good, they are going to say things bad,” Mickelson said. “They are going to say things true, they are going to say things not true. The fact is I am comfortable enough with who I am as a person that I don’t feel like I need to comment on every little report that comes out.”
Mickelson, 45, also offered close to a defence of Trump, who has come under fierce criticism for his comments about Mexicans. Golf and the businessman are intrinsically linked, given the multiple venues he owns and at which professional tournaments are staged. The Scottish Open is due to be played at one, Balmedie, just outside Aberdeen, in 2017.
“I think we were all disappointed to hear his comments,” Mickelson said. “Yet it doesn’t take away from all he has done to try to help better golf and take these properties, turn them around and make them prosperous. He did it at the course in Aberdeen, it is just a wonderful golf course. And it puts everybody in an awkward situation because we don’t agree with the comments but yet we are appreciative of what he has done to promote the game of golf. That puts everybody in a tough spot.”
Mickelson spent time with his family on holiday in Ireland before arriving in East Lothian. “It’s a very big golf country, Ireland,” he said. “I met some wonderful people. I have to say that I’ve also met some of the nicest people I think I’ve ever met. I love how relaxed the environment is, how relaxed everybody is. There’s no stress about time. It’s just: ‘It will all work out.’ It’s a great feeling. I found it very relaxing and I enjoyed it.”
Mickelson’s appearance the week before any major is typical but events involving him in 2013 have played a part in boosting the Scottish Open field. Two years ago the left-hander won this tournament and seven days later did the same at the Open for the first time, taking the title by three strokes at Muirfield. The past four Open champions played the Scottish Open beforehand and Mickelson will join the likes of Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker in heading from Gullane to the Open at St Andrews.
“The Open Championship is very mentally challenging and so playing the week before, although I’m trying to prepare and get ready, I don’t want to get beat up every single hole,” Mickelson said. “I don’t want to be mentally drained at the end of this week.
“So I really like the way the course is looking to be a fun test but not beat you up. When I first started playing the Scottish Open, Loch Lomond was the site and we played there every year and every year when we went back I had memories from previous years to fall back on. I didn’t need to come early and learn the golf course, I already knew the golf course. It’s more challenging now that these sites are rotated. It’s great in the sense I get to see some wonderful golf courses throughout the country of Scotland.”
Fowler was similarly upbeat. “I love playing links golf and I love playing over here,” the Californian said. “I am ready to play in anything, good weather, bad weather. I had some of the worst weather I have ever played in, at Royal St George’s for the Open in 2011. You have to be ready for anything and to accept the challenge. “You never really know what you are going to get here. You can have four different days of weather for the tournament and that’s part of the fun of it.”
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