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Now the professional ethic ingrained in me over 40 years of journalism is that you never publish a conversation you have privately overheard without asking the person's permission. I merely made a mental note to myself to discuss taxes with Mickelson later.
But because of comments Mickelson made on Jan. 16 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am media day in which he suggested Steve Stricker was scaling back his playing schedule because of "what's gone on the last couple of months politically" -- an apparent reference to the November election and the tax changes that followed -- Mickelson was asked about taxes after his round Sunday at the Humana.
For the record, Phil said that because of the increased Federal tax rate for high-income people coupled with the passage of Proposition 30 in California, which calls for tax increases for the wealthy to help fund public education, "I will be making some drastic changes."
That set off wild speculation about Phil's future. Even The Associated Press, which always opts for the under when betting on journalistic hyperbole, wrote Sunday night:
"Phil Mickelson has hinted at a move away from California, perhaps the United States and maybe even away from golf as he seeks to escape punitive tax rates."
Yikes! Could that really be true? Is Mickelson is going to quit making tens of millions of dollars playing golf so he doesn't have to pay tens of millions of dollars in taxes? To try to get to the bottom of things, on Sunday night I sent a text deep within the inner reaches of the Mickelson camp asking:
"Did your guy say he might shut it down next year because of tax law changes?"
The answer was a simple and clear: "No."
I pointed out that people were tweeting that Phil might quit and asked for clarification. The answer was that he is "considering options in light of recent proposition in Calif and possible changes in federal tax laws."
That was a much more measured response that stayed away from the alarmist "drastic changes" language Phil has used after his round. Still, by Tuesday the Mickelson folks were in full damage control and issued a statement saying finances and taxes are a personal matter that should not be discussed publicly, apologizing to those offended by the Sunday comments.
The restrained display by Mickelson on Tuesday and Wednesday is what was needed on Sunday. There's no doubt in my mind that Phil hasn't suddenly become a Lefty on taxes, but he now realizes there is little to be gained by being openly Right.
It took Mickelson years -- and 46 failed tries in the majors -- before he learned that self control and caution is what wins the big tournaments. Perhaps now he has learned that's a good path to follow in non-golf matters as well.
Going public with your opinions is a right, but it can come at a price when you live your life on a public stage. Mickelson seems to have learned that lesson. But still, you never know when he is going to go for the green instead of wisely laying up.