Phil Mickelson says he won't return to Rocket Mortgage Classic in wake of report

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Detroit — Phil Mickelson’s first appearance at the Rocket Mortgage Classic will be his last.

The reigning PGA Championship winner confirmed that on Thursday after his first round at the Detroit Golf Club. Mickelson cited what he called an “unnecessary attack” in a Detroit News story published on Tuesday.

UPDATE: Mickelson now says he'll be back, if Detroit fans do this

Phil Mickelson hits his approach shot on the second hole during the first round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic golf tournament, Thursday, July 1, 2021, at the Detroit Golf Club in Detroit.

The story showed Mickelson was cheated out of $500,000 roughly 20 years ago by “Dandy" Don DeSeranno, a mob-connected bookie from Grosse Pointe Park who testified in a 2007 racketeering trial of Jack Giacalone, a reputed organized crime leader in Metro Detroit.

Mickelson has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Though the trial occurred in 2007, the transcript mentioning Mickelson did not appear in Giacalone's court file until 2018. It was discovered as Giacalone faced prison time last month in connection with an overdue tax bill of more than $537,222. The details involving Mickelson were previously unreported.

“It was so much effort for me to be here and to have that type of unnecessary attack — not like I care, it happened 20-something years ago —  but just the lack of appreciation, yeah, I don’t see that happening,” Mickelson said when asked if he’d return to the third-year PGA Tour event. “I don’t see me coming back. Not that I don’t love the people here and they have been great, but not with that type of thing happening.”

Mickelson has a well-publicized history of high-stakes gambling. According to a Wall Street Journal story from 2016 that cited a report used by casinos to evaluate customers, between October 2000 and June 2003, Mickelson lost nearly $2.5 million gambling in Las Vegas casinos.

He also was involved in a 2017 insider trading case that led to him paying a $1 million settlement to the Securities and Exchange Commission. In that case, federal prosecutors broke down a series of stock trades by Mickelson in 2012 during the trial of Las Vegas businessman and renowned gambler William "Billy" Walters.

Walters, who was found guilty of insider trading, passed information he received from a former executive at Dean Foods to Mickelson before the golfer purchased about 200,000 shares. Mickelson sold his shares a week later for a profit of $930,000, which authorities said he used to pay gambling debts. Mickelson was absolved of any wrongdoing.

“It would be disappointing if Phil Mickelson chose to snub Detroit because of a clearly newsworthy story about his past associations,” said Gary Miles, Editor and Publisher of The Detroit News. “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 had just finished his round, posting a 3-under 69, but during a nearly three-hour rain delay, responded to various posts on Twitter, as he did on Wednesday evening, criticizing the News report.

The 51-year-old, six-time major champion expressed frustration, saying that he's also probably ending any plans he had to get involved with "what's happening" around the tournament. He had announced no plans previously and never previously played in the tournament.

Mickelson is involved in several charities, including the Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation, created in 2004. In recent years, according to tax filings it has raised more than $3.5 million and has donated about $2 million to a range of causes. 

None of the Mickelson foundation’s contributions went to groups in Detroit or Michigan, according to the tax filings.

Rocket Mortgage and PGA Tour officials declined comment on Mickelson's intentions.

“It was a lot for me to play here because I had won the PGA and then I prepared for the U.S. Open, put a lot of time and effort into the U.S. Open,” Mickelson said.

“I was looking at some ways where my foundation might be able to get involved and when you have a divisive voice like that you can't bring people together," he said. He did not offer any specifics on his plans.

Mickelson, playing in one of the two morning featured groups with Rickie Fowler and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, was a fan favorite, with a gallery that seemed to top 1,000 earlier the day and didn’t lose many followers after the three-hour-plus rain delay.

He gave a thumbs-up to most fans who shouted his name, smiling to cries of, “You’re a GOAT,” “Phil the Thrill,” and “Hang in there, Phil,” early in the round, when he was over par.

On the sixth hole, sitting at even par, Mickelson found the left rough on the par-4 sixth and had more than 200 yards in. He hacked out an approach to inside 5 feet.

He made the putt for his first birdie on his second nine, and raised his arms in mock triumph, sporting a big grin. Mickelson followed that up with a wide-right tee shot at the par-5 seventh hole, hit his approach through an opening in trees from the sixth fairway to short left of the green, and got up and down for a second birdie in a row.

Mickelson committed to the Rocket Mortgage Classic in late May, after his PGA Championship victory, and tournament officials reported an immediate spike in ticket interest. With Tiger Woods out with injury, Mickelson is the biggest draw in the game. He was committed to play in Detroit last year, but COVID-19 shuffled the PGA Tour’s schedule, and he did not compete on the makeup date.

Mickelson last played a sanctioned tournament in Michigan in 2008, in the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, where he finished tied for seventh. He made occasional trips to play in the old Buick Open, which was last played in 2009 at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau