Sunday 8 December 2019

Golfer Mickelson: I need to be more wary of company I keep

Phil Mickelson said he was disappointed to be linked to the insider trading investigation (AP)
Phil Mickelson said he was disappointed to be linked to the insider trading investigation (AP)

Golfer Phil Mickelson has said he was disappointed to get caught up in a US government probe linking him to an insider trader scheme and needed to be more responsible for the company he kept off the green.

"I feel excited to start playing golf again," he said on Wednesday. "I feel excited to have that part behind me and move forward."

It was Mickelson's first public appearance since he was named in a federal complaint that accused Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters and Thomas Davis, a former corporate board member of Dean Foods, of making tens of millions of dollars in illicit stock trades.

Mickelson was spared criminal charges. The Securities and Exchange Commissioner alleges he benefited only from the misdeeds of others and Mickelson agreed to repay the 931,000 dollars (£646,000), plus interest, he made in a single trade of Dean Foods in the summer of 2012.

It was the second time in two years that Mickelson met the media at the Memorial Golf Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, to talk about stock deals instead of his short game.

FBI agents met him after his first round of the 2014 Memorial to ask him about Walters during an insider trading investigation. Mickelson said that week he had done nothing wrong.

Walking into the same room after his pro-am round, he smiled and said: "This looks familiar."

But he did not have much to say except that he felt a burden lifted that his part was over, and he thanked his family and corporate sponsors for their support.

"I'm disappointed to have been a part of that whole thing," he said. "But after a thorough investigation, I'm pleased that it's behind me. I'm glad it's over and it's in the past. Ready to move on."

Still to be determined was any action by the PGA Tour.

The tour's player handbook has a section under "Conduct of Players" that says a player shall not "associate with or have dealings with persons whose activities, including gambling, might reflect adversely upon the integrity of the game of golf".

Spokesman Ty Votaw said on May 19, when the indictment was announced, that the tour was in the process of looking into it.

Mickelson said he was not sure if he faced any punishment.

"I'm not really able to talk about ... I don't know," he said. "I don't know anything to even comment on that."

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem would not discuss Mickelson's case except to say that he had not yet spoken to the five-time major champion.

"I have no comment about anything else at this point," Finchem said.

According to the SEC complaint, Walters called Mickelson on July 27, 2012, and they exchanged texts over the next two days. Mickelson bought 2.4 million dollars (£1.6m) of Dean Foods shares from July 30 to 31 from three brokerage accounts.

The SEC said he had less than 250,000 dollars (£174,000) in those accounts, had not been a frequent trader and had never bought Dean Foods stock.

The day after Dean Foods announced its quarterly earnings and that it was spinning off subsidiary White Wave Foods, the stock price went up 40% and Mickelson sold all his shares for a 931,000-dollar profit.

The SEC also said Mickelson had placed bets with Walters before the stock tip, that Mickelson owed him money at the time of the trading and that he repaid Walters a month later "in part with the proceeds of his trading".

As Mickelson was playing his pro-am, a federal magistrate judge in New York set bail at 25 million dollars (£17.3m) for Walters, who pleaded not guilty to the insider trading charges.

"I have to be responsible for the people I associated with," Mickelson said when asked about the PGA Tour policy on dealing with people who might reflect badly on the game.

"Going forward, I'll make my best effort I can to make sure I represent myself, as well as my family, as well as my companies, in the way that I want to and they deserve."

PA Media

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