Does Phil have Bipolar Disorder?

The fans who love Phil Mickelson will get to see him at the Masters this spring. Augusta National has announced it will allow those who are qualified to compete, regardless of  Tour status. Phil, who's been kicked off the PGA Tour, is a three-time past champion who is automatically qualified. It just wasn't the same at last year's Masters without Phil (only one name required — like Tiger) as he was taking a leave from the professional game, perhaps to be treated for a condition such as bipolar disorder.

Pro golfers tend to be technical. Phil Mickelson has always been creative. Actually, Phil could get agonizingly technical in his explanations of how he approached and pulled off certain shots. But make no mistake, he is a creative shot maker, especially around the greens.

And Phil is a high risk golfer, which puts him in the position to make miraculous recovery shots. His golf game is, like his lifestyle, high risk.

It was 2006 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. Phil had recently won the Masters and the PGA Championship. He would eventually win the Open in Britain for a third leg of the Grand Slam. But the U.S. Open title had eluded him and would elude him.

Despite a shaky final round, Phil found himself only needing par on the last hole for a victory. A bogey would put him in a playoff. All of New York’s metropolitan area and suburbs were rooting for him. Despite hitting only two fairways all day, Phil pulled an unlikely and unnecessary driver from his bag. Phil proceeded to flare his drive to the right and got a seemingly fortunate bounce off a hospitality tent. Still hopeful of par, he attempted to loft his second shot over a group of trees. It didn’t go well.

As commentator Dan Hicks said, “That shot had all the components of Phil’s personality and style of golf. It’s always all-or-nothing for Phil, and this time we got the nothing.” Phil doubled down on his attempt to launch his ball over the trees, this time reaching a greenside bunker, which gave him a plugged lie. The resulting double bogey cost him the championship. He would finish in the runner-up spot six times.

Winged Foot was only the best known of Phil’s go-for-broke golf adventures and misadventures. There were many others. But if tournament play didn’t provide enough excitement for “Phil the Thrill,” practice rounds would provide some more. Lefty (yet another nickname) would regularly play for a few thousand dollars with his fellow touring pros. He’d have played for more if they’d let him.

Phil’s really large bets were placed on sporting events with bookies. Biographer Alan Shipnuck has claimed that Phil lost $40 million over a four year period. That’s almost half of his on-course career earnings. It would explain why he started having trouble paying his caddie Bones Mackay.  Phil was lucky to escape insider trading charges when he took advantage of a stock tip from a shadowy figure to whom he owed a large gambling debt.

Phil himself admitted to problem gambling in a Sports Illustrated interview: “My gambling got to a point of being reckless and embarrassing.” But there may have been more to admit to. Two characteristics of bipolar disorder and the accompanying manic episodes are risky behavior and problems with money. Clearly Phil exhibited both.

It’s possible that Phil was always hyperthymic. Those with hyperthymia exude confidence and believe they can accomplish anything. They are extroverted and gregarious. They are high-functioning and often high-achieving. It’s also possible that Phil’s 2021 PGA Championship victory kicked his hyperthymia into full-blown bipolar mania. Winning that event at his age was an amazing and historic accomplishment. Nobody over 50 had won a major championship before. Though still popular, Phil had been written off as a non-factor on the regular tour by fans and the media. And now he was back on top of the golf world.

Clearly something happened to cause Phil to go off the rails and then go missing during the following Masters (his favorite tournament) and PGA Championship (his chance to defend).

Phil joined the Saudi-backed LIV Tour and made some unfortunate comments about the PGA Tour. He may have been deluded about how transformational his LIV venture would be, although it did seem to make the PGA Tour more lucrative for those who stayed with it.  Manic behavior can be destructive and Phil was damaging, if not destroying, his legacy.

After the comments came out in excerpts of Shipnuck’s book, Phil announced in February of 2022 that he was taking a break from golf. His social media accounts went dark. His apparently self-imposed leave lasted until the U.S. Open in June. It appeared to be self-imposed because the Tour, Augusta National, and the PGA of America all denied imposing it.

Only something very serious would keep Phil away from the Masters and PGA. Some observers speculated that Amy was having another bout of cancer, but it may have been the case that Phil was receiving treatment for bipolar disorder. It’s amazing that nobody with even an amateur familiarization of it suggested bipolar disorder. 

Even with a large support system around Phil, stabilizing an emerging case of bipolar disorder and then confidently managing it could take months. It would explain his long absence.