Lefty makes U-turn: Phil Mickelson now says he'll be back, if Detroiters do this

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Phil Mickelson strolled to the first tee Friday, serenaded by chants of, "We love Phil!"

Turns out, he loves them, too — and wants to see them again.

Mickelson, who's been in the headlines this week for reasons besides birdies and bogeys, said Friday that he felt so much love from the fans at Detroit Golf Club this week, that he now plans to return to the Rocket Mortgage Classic for 2022. He said Thursday he would not because of a Detroit News report on past gambling activities that he felt was unfair, inappropriate and ill-timed.

Phil Mickelson hits a fairway shot on the eighth hole.

"I'm in," Mickelson said. 

But there's one catch.

A petition at change.org was created Thursday to help convince Mickelson to come back to Detroit. Mickelson said if that petition meets the 50,000-signature goal, and that each of the 50,000 signers agreed to do "one random act of kindness for another member of the community," then he will tee it up again when the PGA Tour returns to Detroit next summer.

"If the members of the community will come together," said Mickelson, "I'd love to be back."

The petition had more than 1,600 signatures around 7:30 p.m. Friday, shortly after Mickelson's announcement.

Shortly after Mickelson's round was completed Friday, the Detroit-based Children's Foundation announced Phil and Amy Mickelson had pledged a $100,000 donation to the organization. Phil Mickelson said earlier this week he had been exploring charity opportunities to become involved with in Detroit, through his foundation.

Mickelson, 51, a six-time major champion who won the PGA Championship earlier this year, was not pleased with The News' report published Tuesday detailing how he once was cheated out of $500,000 in bets by a mob-connected Grosse Pointe Park bookie. The gambling activity took place more than two decades ago, but transcripts of a deposition detailing Mickelson's connection were just discovered late last month.

Mickelson was not accused in The News article of any wrongdoing, and his lawyer told ESPN that the report was accurate but questioned the timing of publication ahead of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Mickelson spent Thursday's lengthy rain delay tweeting his objection to the report, and maintained his disappointment Friday.

"This tournament has sponsors from Rocket Mortgage, to a lot of the local sponsors, to a lot of the people in the community that are trying to come together and do something good for the community," Mickelson said. "What I won't tolerate is that kind of divisive attitude from that particular reporter.

"It's just not helpful to anybody in any way."

More: Tee times for Saturday's Round 3 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic

Mickelson drew a big crowd in Thursday's opening round, and an even larger gallery Friday, when he teed off not even 24 hours after making comments about how he wouldn't return to Detroit. The "We love Phil!" chants on the first tie were egged on by playing partner Rickie Fowler, who raised his arms as if to say, keep going. Fowler is a brand ambassador for Rocket Mortgage. Mickelson sells a lot of tickets, tournament officials seeing a big spike in interest when he committed to play in late May.

One fan yelled, "You gotta come back!" Another, "Come back." Lots of, "Thank you Phil."

Three young men walked the rope line wearing matching black, "Phil is GOD" t-shirts.

Mickelson opened with a 69 on Thursday, and shot par-72 on Friday to make the cut on the number, at 3 under. So he will at least spend two more days with Detroit fans this year.

He made two bogeys on the back nine to fall outside the cut line, then grazed the cup in missing birdie putts on Nos. 15 and 16. On the 17th tee, needing at least one more birdie to make the cut, his tee shot was delayed as a family of ducks slowly sauntered across the tee box.

Mickelson got close to the green in two, then got up and down from 42 yards for birdie at the par 5 to get to 3 under. A par at 18 booked two more days in Detroit, two more days sure to be filled with attention and his trademark thumbs-up.

"You know, the people were awesome," said Mickelson, who played with Fowler in a twosome after Hideki Matsuyama withdrew because of a positive COVID-19 test. "They were so nice."

This is Mickelson's first time playing a sanctioned tournament in Michigan since the 2008 PGA, held at Oakland Hills. He was scheduled to play last year's RMC, until COVID-19 altered the PGA Tour schedule, making him unavailable that week. He used to be a semi-frequent participant in the old Buick Open in Grand Blanc, and used to headline a television par-3 shootout at Treetops in Gaylord. He has 45 PGA Tour wins, none in Michigan.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984