Phil Mickelson addresses tax comments at Farmers Insurance Open news conference

Golfer apologizes for making comments public

SAN DIEGO - Pro golfer Phil Mickelson, who makes $40 million to $50 million a year, said he was unsure Wednesday about whether to leave California for a less taxing state and acknowledged it was "insensitive" to air his opinions publicly.

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"I shouldn't have talked about it yet, because I don't have a plan formulated yet on what I'm going to do," Mickelson said, speaking at Torrey Pines Golf Club after his pro-am round in the Farmers Insurance Open.

Mickelson said he and wife Amy would discuss options before any decision was made.

During the news conference, he referred to the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, when he hit a drive way left that led to double bogey and cost him a major title. He said this time he was "way right," referring to his position on taxes, and that he should not have spoken publicly about his financial views.

"I've made some dumb, dumb mistakes and obviously talking about this stuff was one of them … I made a big mistake talking about this stuff publicly and I shouldn't have done that," Mickelson said.

The 42-year-old native San Diegan and current Rancho Santa Fe resident, one of the highest paid golfers ever, recently said new taxes that will take more than 60 percent of his annual income were part of the reason he did not become part owner of the San Diego Padres.

Mickelson said at the time that "there are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state and, you know, it doesn't work for me right now."

Recently passed Proposition 30 will push Mickelson's state income tax rate from 10.3 percent to 13.3 percent, and the "fiscal cliff" deal pushed the top federal rate for millionaires to 39.6 percent.

"I've never had a problem paying my fair share," he said, "because I know that there are very few countries in the world that let you do what you do and live in this environment and have your personal possessions be secured through the court system, through the police, through all the many things this great country offers. So I've never had a problem with that before."

The golfer known as "Lefty" -- for his swing -- held court with reporters while wearing a KPMG hat and Callaway shirt, two of his main sponsors.

He conceded that he's said "stupid things in the past" and caused previous media uproars. One of the PGA tour's most popular golfers said he probably alienated some fans, including those who were unemployed or "living paycheck to paycheck."

"I shouldn't take advantage of the forum I have as a professional golfer to try to ignite change over these issues …," Mickelson added.

Fellow golfer Tiger Woods, in his pre-tournament news conference Tuesday, said high taxes were the reason he moved from California, where he was born, raised and attended college, to Florida, which has no state income tax, in 1996, the year he turned pro.

"I enjoy Florida, but also I understand what he was, I think, trying to say," Woods said of Mickelson. "I think he'll probably explain it better and in a little more detail."

Golf fans Marshall Chay and Carlos Fletas went to watch Wednesday's pro-am event, but kept discussing Mickelson's tax comments. The pair wanted to ask Mickelson about moving away from California to avoid the taxes.

When asked about Woods' move from California to Florida, Chay said, "I'd do the same."

Fletas added, "Yeah, I don't blame the guy."

When Chay was asked what he thought would be a fair amount to be taxed, he replied, "I think a third is about fair. When you start getting 50 percent or more, it's like you're penalized for the success that you're having and I don't think that's right."

Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee, released a statement Wednesday saying that Mickelson should not apologize for his comments.

"In fact, [Mickelson] should be more bold and continue to criticize the tax policies that are plaguing California. I expect other successful, high profile, high net worth earners to leave the state ... which was my argument against Proposition 30 in the first place," said Jones.

Jones stated that at some point, top earners will say, "'enough is enough' and leave" the state.

"How many $100,000 earners does it take to replace Mickelson's tax revenue when he leaves? Furthermore, how many $250,000 earners does it take leaving the state for California to realize taxing people to oblivion will not work?" Jones said in his statement.

Mickelson's net worth has been estimated at $180 million.

 


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