Phil Mickelson apologizes for tax comments

Phil Mickelson hits out of a bunker on Phil Mickelson hits out of a bunker on the 12th hole during the final round of the Humana Challenge In Partnership With The Clinton Foundation on the Palmer Private Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. (Jan. 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty

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Right now, the only drastic change Phil Mickelson has decided to make is in the way he should address the massive tax increases in California and the "drastic changes" he is planning in response. On Tuesday, he issued a statement apologizing for his remarks about the state's code.

Mickelson had spoken to a few reporters Sunday after his round at the Humana Challenge, reflecting on the state's new Proposition 30, which he said would force him to pay 62 to 63 percent of his income in taxes. He said at the time, "I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do yet. I'm not going to jump the gun, but there's going to be some drastic changes for me, because I happen to be in that [tax] zone that has been targeted federally and by the state."

But after a day to reflect, the golfer who is known for his appeal to the average fan -- especially those on Long Island, where a wave of support began during the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black -- evidently realized that it was not the best idea for someone who makes a reported $47.8 million annually to complain about his finances.

So he released a statement Tuesday through his spokesman, T.R. Reinman, saying, "I absolutely love what I do. I love and appreciate the game of golf and the people who surround it. I'm as motivated as I've ever been to work on my game, to compete and to win championships.

"Right now, I'm like many Americans who are trying to understand the new tax laws. I've been learning a lot over the last few months and talking with people who are trying to help me make intelligent and informed decisions. I certainly don't have a definitive plan at this time, but like everyone else I want to make decisions that are best for my future and my family.

"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 to not let it happen again."

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Forbes magazine listed Mickelson as the No. 7 highest paid athlete last year, with $43 million of his $47.8 million in earnings coming from endorsements.

Mickelson did receive some support for his feelings about not wanting to be overtaxed, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry issuing a public invitation for Mickelson and his family to move to his state. And taxes are an issue for top pro golfers, many of whom (including Tiger Woods) live in Florida, where tax bills generally are not as big as those in California and other states.

Tiger Woods, like Mickelson, a California native, at his pre-tournament news conference at Torrey Pines in San Diego on Tuesday, was asked about the state's tax situation. "I moved out of here in '96 for that reason." Unlike California, Florida does not have a personal income tax.

As for Mickelson's somewhat awkward comments, Woods added, "I enjoy Florida, but I understand what -- I think -- he was trying to say."

Still, at a time when many Americans are out of work and struggling to hold onto their homes, his comments seemed at odds with the image of an athlete who generally spends a good deal of time at tournaments signing autographs and making contact with the public. He is particularly popular on Long Island, where fans at the 2002 "People's Open" on a municipal course serenaded him with "Happy Birthday."

He drew loud support from golf followers when he nearly won the 2004 Open at Shinnecock Hills and the 2009 Open at Bethpage Black. Fans at those events, and at The Barclays at Bethpage last August, also have been effusive in their support for Mickelson's wife, Amy, in her recovery from breast cancer.

Moving out of California would be a drastic change for Mickelson, who was born and raised there, still lives in Rancho Santa Fe near his parents and has three school-age children who are comfortable in their routines in their hometown.

Part of Mickelson's appeal, along with his Hall of Fame career and four major championships, is that he freely expresses his emotions and opinions. He once had to backtrack after saying that Woods was winning with "inferior equipment" (which had been intended as a compliment to the player, but was taken as a slam at the company he represented).

Mickelson criticized the U.S. Golf Association's setup at the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont. He repeatedly has tweaked the layouts of noted course architect Rees Jones. He called the recently announced ban on "anchoring" with belly putters "grossly unfair."

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