Phil’s Unplayable Lie


If Phil Mickelson feels good about it, then good for him.

But that’s as far as I’ll go in terms of waxing poetic about his (pending) decision to skip the US Open in favor of attending his daughter Amanda’s high school graduation. If not for the fact that his daughter is class president, valedictorian, and giving the commencement address… I’d call the decision stupid, but a stupid one that is wholly his to make.

And for this, I would get blasted. How DARE I…. you and others would huff! (And some already have, due to a few preliminary comments I have made on the radio about the subject).

I offer this as only my opinion. A high school graduation is a mere ceremony. It is not the actual “accomplishment” of graduating from high school, which I consider a very low bar in terms of life achievements. It’s just a gathering and a party. It’s nice. It’s lovely. Barring any significant conflict on your schedule, family members should attend.

The fact that Amanda is speaking at such an event, does raise the bar, I’ll admit. Tough call, this one. Hard to believe this conflict wasn’t somehow ironed out months ago… but… whatever. I’m watching the US Open whether Phil is there, or not.

At the same time, attending a graduation does not certify you as a “good father.” If only it were that easy. Many tour pros do not have the luxury Phil does. They don’t have career earnings and endorsements north of $250 million. They don’t even have good insider stock tips. (What? Oh, so I’m the bad guy?) Many tour pros who qualify for a prestigious tournament like the US Open, understand the sacrifice they will have to make to play in it, and so they make a hard adult decision.

Jason Gay writes the following for the Wall Street Journal in defense of Phil’s choice.

I think we’re wising up, I really do. Even in sports, where perspectives are always a little askew and caveman-like. Mickelson’s fellow golf pro Hunter Mahan walked away from the Canadian Open—with the lead—when his wife Kandi went into labor in 2013, and his move was widely lauded. You can also see progress in team sports. Yes, there are still dinosaurs among us who gnash and growl that a player who leaves to attend a childbirth is letting down the club, teammates, fans. (Usually, it seems, these dinosaurs have shows on sports radio.)

In fact, Amanda herself has apparently told papa Phil that it’s perfectly okay for him to miss it. Phil has apparently politely declined.

So does that make Amanda herself, a so-called “dinosaur?”

It’s easy to say “it’s only sports.” But professional sports are important – hence the term: “profession.” Not unlike doctors who get called into the ER, lawyers who dance to the schedule of the courts, salesman who are asked to fly across the globe on a moments notice to close a big account, sometimes you just don’t get to be there. And there is no shame in that. These are the livelihoods and the rock upon which fathers build their families. How many special events – birthdays, proms, graduations, school plays, awards nights – has the team trainer for the Nashville Predators missed over the years?

If a high school graduation is more important than the US Open, then is dropping Amanda off at college more important than the FedEx Cup Championship? (Answer: “probably.” Phil once skipped the Tour Championship to go trick-or-treating with his kids!) What about the Ryder Cup? If Phil is captain of the team someday, and her daughter drops out of college in emotional despair because her boyfriend dumped her, does he just say “sorry fellas, something came up at home?”

Obviously, there is no chart for this. And making this decision much more simple is the fact that Mickelson has no obligation to anybody than himself. I would dare say that LeBron James pulling this move before Game 7 of the NBA Finals, would not generate nearly as much sympathetic column inches from evolved dinosaurs like Mr. Gay.

I remember the Presidents Cup that ended in a tie in 2003 in South Africa. Ernie Els and Tiger Woods exchanged gut-check 10 footers in a tied singles match, as sunlight ran out on Sunday. Finally, unable to see, Captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player faced a tough call. Do you re-assemble everybody in the morning to finish properly in daylight?

I would have. But Tour players being the pampered type, too many of them had jets warming up on the tarmac. Even just bringing Tiger and Ernie back for one hole was problematic according to reports after the fact, that Tiger had already planned to escape with his girlfriend Elin Nordegren to a secluded South African resort to propose to her on Monday.

So they called it a tie. Which was gutless and incomplete. I know it’s just an exhibition, but many golf fans like myself, had invested time and interest in the actual outcome, only to get a bait and switch at the end. Of course who, at the time, could fault Tiger from not wanting to delay such a special moment in his life, right?

Well, we know how that turned out.

Chances are, Phil wasn’t going to win next week at Erin Hills, no matter how close he keeps coming to the career Grand Slam. He might not be even a fan of the layout. So good for him. I would never do it, but that’s just me: a heartless bad-dad “dinosaur” who understands that life is full of compromises and conflicts.

But spare me the flowing prose about Phil the Phather of the Year – or decade! We don’t really know this guy, or any of these guys we root for. There’s going to be 156 other golfers next week, and I’m guessing a few of them are going to missing some event back home they would rather be at. Just because they chose to golf, doesn’t make them monsters, the same as Phil backing out doesn’t make him a saint.

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Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. "Czabe" also writes and edits his own commentaries for and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at


  1. Dinosaur? Ironic that “dinosaurs” are the very things we rely upon to do ANYTHING in this world in fossil fuels. As such, fathers are STILL the majority rock by which the financial well being of many households depend. If doing your job makes you a dinosaur and not a candidate for Father of the Year, then my old man sucked…but I really appreciate the money he made that kept me debt free in college.

  2. This is just another non-story story for sports pundits to mewl about. Golf is an individual sport, so if he doesn’t show up it’s all on him. He might have reviewed all the facts above (money, course, etc.) and said “Hey, I don’t really need to go, and this will make me look great to my endorsers.”

    If this is so important, if the cro-magnon athletes need to “get it” then why aren’t these guys crowing about team sports that are playing games (MANY games) on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving when we should ALL be with our families and friends, let alone dads. Call be when Ben Roethlisberger chooses to be with his kids on Christmas instead of playing against the Texans.

    Oh, and people need to stop complaining about NBA teams sitting guys when the coach decides they need a rest. Why should Golden State care about the Wizards ticket sales? If rested guys give you a better chance in the playoffs, then so be it. Ask the Caps how great it is to win the regular season and fail in the playoffs. I’m not saying the Caps lost because they were tired, I’m saying winning the regular season doesn’t keep the coach from getting fired… that’s why coaches make the decision to sit guys. Fans want trophies.

  3. Doesn’t Phil donate large sums of money to this school? Couldn’t the school reschedule this meaningless ceremony (it’s just high school, folks) to a time that would have allowed Phil to play the US Open and attend the ceremony? Who does this school think they are??

    • Couldn’t he just play Thursday and Friday before deciding? If he is 10 back going into Saturday, he hops on his jet and the decision is easy.

  4. Czabe , the older i get (52) the less I care about pro sports , I love golf but realized long ago that if I missed an event , major etc. the results were still the same and had zero effect on my life , that said I DON’T GIVE A FUCK!!!! But I do love you , keep the postd coming bro. Oh and play Laurel hills sometime , my favorite NOVA layout.

  5. Why does he get a pass for taking up a spot some alternate could use? He isn’t giving the next guy up much notice. Just withdraw and be done with it.

  6. Mr. Czaban,

    Ahh, the fallacy of the excluded middle. The choices are not saint or monster, but a whole range of labels much more subtle. I think you probably know that.

    You were not at the mike this afternoon. Are the only options for you not being there saint or monster? Of course not. Phil made a decision for his reasons as did you. I understand you having skin in the game for your show, what’s your skin in the game for Phil? Phil or not, it’s still the U.S. Open and it was one fantastic tournament.

    I get you make money for your opinions. Perhaps you should actually opine on something meaningful. Oops, you talk about sports. I am pretty sure the vast majority of the world’s population would love to have something so trivial to occupy their time. In stead of, you know, things like their next meal?


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