Will probe distract Phil Mickelson?June 1, 2014
Through the ups and downs of the past several weeks, times that have seen his golf game uncharacteristically off as one of his biggest tournaments approaches, Phil Mickelson remained typically upbeat.
Engaging, funny, often self-deprecating, Lefty tackled the queries about his indifferent golf game, about his pursuit of the career Grand Slam, about what he's doing to fix some of the wrongs that have kept him from finishing among the top 10 in a single tournament this year on the PGA Tour.
The attitude has been good, the outlook positive.
And so it was that Mickelson emerged from the scoring area at Muirfield Village Golf Club on Saturday afternoon, saw an unusually large group of media, smiled and said, "Awesome."
It undoubtedly wasn't, and Mickelson got a big laugh, all knowing that nobody was really there to talk about the even-par 72 he just shot during the third round of the Memorial.
News broke Friday night that Mickelson was part of a government insider trading investigation, and while he clearly was not excited about the prospect of discussing it, he did take questions.
"I can't really go into much right now, but as I said in my statement, I have done absolutely nothing wrong," Mickelson said. "And that's why I've been fully cooperating with the FBI agents, and I'm happy to do so in the future, too, until this gets resolved.
"But for right now - and hopefully it will be soon - but for right now I can't really talk much about it."
That didn't stop efforts to probe into the details - Mickelson on five occasions declined to provide much in the way of specifics. It wasn't a shock - the surprise was that he spoke at all - especially given the statement he released, which essentially said the same thing.
Still, as it relates to his golf, it is fair to wonder if this episode has had a negative impact.
Mickelson, 43, is essentially having the worst season of his 22-year professional career. He's never gone so far into a season without a PGA Tour top-10 finish. He's missed three cuts, including at the Masters and the Players Championship.
And he's shown a rather alarming inability to finish off good rounds, put four good rounds together or build any momentum. Case in point this week: Mickelson is 10 under par on holes 1 though 15, and 8 over on 16 through 18. He is tied for 47th after 54 holes.
That tie for second at the European Tour event in Abu Dhabi in January seems long ago.
Asked how much the situation has affected his golf, Mickelson said, "It hasn't until Thursday."
That is when two FBI agents approached Mickelson after the round to discuss the insider trading investigation. They followed him "just like the article said," Mickelson said, referring to a Wall Street Journal report. "It was accurate."
Mickelson declined to answer a question about whether FBI agents approached him at a New Jersey airport last year about the same subject, as the New York Times reported.
So at this point, it is hard to know if this has truly been weighing on him. It seems clear Mickelson has known about this for some time, and it's not exactly the type of thing you casually bring up to reporters wondering why you are struggling with your putting.
The timing, of course, is certainly not ideal, not as far as the sport he plays for a living. Mickelson has been pointing toward the U.S. Open at Pinehurst since his surprise win at the Open Championship last year, the one that gave him three of the four major championships in his career.
"I would look at my career in a whole different light if I were able to get that fourth one," he said.
Mickelson didn't seem like a guy who was going to let this bother him going forward.
"I think that as a player, you have to be able to block out whatever is going on off the golf course and be able to focus on the golf course," Mickelson said. "And it's not going to change the way I carry myself. Honestly, I've done nothing wrong. I'm not going to walk around any other way."
If it was to distract him, Mickelson has experience. Nothing could have been worse than when his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. (His mother, Mary, was also diagnosed with breast cancer near the same time.) A month later, Mickelson had one of his six runner-up finishes at the US Open. Later that year, he won the Tour Championship.
And if the investigation was going on early in 2013, it didn't stop Mickelson from winning the Scottish Open and the Open Championship in back-to-back weeks.
Mickelson was asked Saturday if he considered withdrawing from the Memorial, and he scoffed at the idea.
Then it was off to sign autographs, hand out golf balls left and right, engage with young and old.
Who knows what's really going through his mind, but it appears that if Mickelson is worried about anything, it is simply his golf game.
This article first appeared on ESPN.com