Tee to Green: Forget the pre-tournament Philler

4:08 PM, Jan 24, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Give thanks that the Farmers Insurance Open is underway. Maybe now we can focus on golf.

Phil Mickelson took the podium in La Jolla, Calif., on Wednesday -- a day before his second PGA Tour start of the season. But none of the questions concerned Lefty's game, his three previous championships at this tournament or his 17-under finish at last week's Humana Challenge.

Instead, Mickelson was pummeled with queries related to his now infamous "tax dodge" comments from Sunday.

For those of you who understandably had something better to do over the past four days, here's a brief synopsis of the events:

Following his 37th-place tie in La Quinta, the California native said he was considering "drastic changes" due to the increased tax rates in his home state, as well as on the federal level.

Then, people overreacted.

Many labeled Mickelson another out-of-touch, spoiled athlete complaining over his millions while ordinary Americans struggle with the crippling constrictions still felt by the recession.

Others fretted that Phil was plotting retirement, or even relocation to another country.

The din reached such unexpected heights that Mickelson opted to release a statement on Monday, which read:

"I absolutely love what I do. I love and appreciate the game of golf and the people who surround it. I'm as motivated as I've ever been to work on my game, to compete and win championships ...

"I'm like many Americans who are trying to understand the new tax laws. I certainly don't have a definitive plan at this time, but like everyone else I want to make decisions that are best for my future and my family.

Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public. I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again."

Then came Wednesday's press conference, in which Mickelson furthered his apology, expounded on his statement, and injected some much-needed wit into the situation, comparing the gaffe to his second shot on No. 18 at the 2006 U.S. Open.

"So this happened to be way right, but way off the tents," Mickelson said, eliciting a delayed chuckle from the mob. "You know, I've made some dumb, dumb mistakes, and, obviously, talking about this stuff was one of them. Like Winged Foot, where I tried to carve a 3-iron around a tree and get it up by the green, I make double bogey and lost the U.S. Open."

Way right - get it? Not bad, Phil.

Mickelson has certainly been known to insert foot in mouth before, but in reality, Sunday's comments weren't nearly as controversial as the collective reaction suggested.

Wealthy individuals have shirked high taxes in the past and they will do so in the future; a fact echoed by Tiger Woods during his Tuesday press conference: "I moved out of (California) back in '96 for that reason."

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who was an economic advisor to the Carter administration, added that Mickelson's decision would not be "a unique thing" for "people making decisions based on tax rates in California, on top of federal rates."

If anything, Mickelson was guilty of failing to keep his mouth shut. It was an ill-conceived time to hop on a soapbox. But it wasn't the first time he pulled such a stunt - remember when he complained that Rees Jones and modern architecture were "killing the game"?

It was consistent with his character. And it is consistent with what we've come to expect from our professional athletes. We learned a long time ago, once the media magnifying glass was directed at anti-incinerating levels, that athletes are just as fallible as regular folk. They are cross-section of the populous; they make mistakes and say dumb stuff.

So let's all move on and focus on actual golf. Because our love of the game is what, in part, allowed Phil to make all those taxable millions in the first place.

The Sports Network

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