By RANDY YOUNGMAN
LA JOLLA – “I just can’t believe I did that … I’m such an idiot.”
Those were Phil Mickelson’s words after he foolishly tried a heroic shot out of trees on the way to a double-bogey on the final hole that cost him the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
And suffice to say Mickelson felt like an idiot again shortly after the final round of the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, when he realized he made some foolish remarks about California’s tax codes and hinted he would have to make “drastic changes” in his life.
The negative fallout from those comments was immediate and widespread, prompting Mickelson to issue this public apology a day later: “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public. I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend not to let it happen again.”
Two days after that, on the day before the Farmers Insurance Open was scheduled to begin at Torrey Pines, Mickelson, a San Diego County resident, said the previous 72 hours reminded him a lot “of Winged Foot in 2006, where I hit a drive way left off the tents (on No. 18).”
“So this happened to be way right,” said a grinning Mickelson, “but way off the tents. You know, I’ve made some dumb, dumb mistakes (in the past) and obviously talking about this stuff was one of them.
“Like Winged Foot, where I tried to carve a 3-iron around a tree and get it up by the green – where I made double-bogey and lost the U.S. Open – I think I’m going to learn my lesson (this time) and take a wedge and get it back in play.”
In other words, no more comments about his tax bracket, which is wise considering that he ranked No. 7 on Forbes’ list of the highest-paid athletes in 2012 with $47.8 million in earnings.
Even though he may have to pay a higher percentage in taxes than most Americans – he claimed Sunday his new tax rate would be close to 62 percent – Mickelson said he realizes multimillionaires should not whine about paying taxes in this economy.
“My apology,” he said, “is for talking about it publicly, because I shouldn’t take advantage of the forum that I have as a professional golfer to try to ignite change over these issues. … I think that it was insensitive to talk about it publicly to those people who are not able to find a job, that are struggling paycheck to paycheck.”
Asked if he is considering moving out of California to escape its high state taxes, as many other pro golfers and professional athletes have, Mickelson said he’s not sure what he’s going to do and reiterated that he shouldn’t have brought it up after the Humana Challenge.
“I’m going to handle the situation the best we can privately, and then announce it publicly what we’re going to do when we have a better idea,” he said.
Mickelson was born in San Diego, went to college at Arizona State and then returned to Southern California to live. His current residence is in Rancho Santa Fe.
“I love it here,” he said. “I grew up in San Diego … My family’s here. (Wife) Amy’s family is here. Our kids’ grandparents are here. I love the community I live in.”
Asked if he was concerned about the latest controversy being a distraction during the Farmers Insurance Open and afterward, Mickelson laughed.
“No, I mean I’ve said some stupid things in the past that caused a media uproar before,” he said. “It’s part of my life and I’ll deal with it.”
Asked what was the next-dumbest thing he had said previously, he smiled again.
“The next-dumbest was probably right here in San Diego 10 years ago talking about equipment,” he said referring to comments in which he said Tiger Woods was winning tournaments with inferior equipment. “What a dumb thing that was. Yeah, I’m sure we can think of some (other) pearls over the years, too.”
Though he made it clear he didn’t want to talk publicly about his tax situation, he was goaded into speaking generally on the subject when asked what it was like when he faced a huge tax bill.
“Well, I love this country, and I love the opportunities that it’s afforded me to be successful and to do what I love,” he said. “So I’ve never had a problem with that before. I’ve never had a problem paying my fair share … I (just) don’t know what that is right now. But I’ve never had a problem paying my fair share.”
Before he left the interview room, someone asked Mickelson when he realized he should have punched out of the trees on No. 18 at Winged Foot and try to make par the hard way.
“About an hour ago,” he said, smiling. “Six, seven years later I realized I should have just wedged back (to the fairway). I could have tried to make a par from the fairway and maybe even a bogey and at worst be (in) a Monday playoff.”
Live and learn. Phil Mickelson has always done both very well. Sometimes, it takes longer and is more painful to achieve the latter.