The PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic is taking place this weekend at the Detroit Golf Club, but the play on the course hasn’t been the most notable story to come out of the tournament.
Journalist Robert Snell of The Detroit News found previously unreported documents that tied six-time major tournament winner Phil Mickelson to bookie “Dandy” Don DeSeranno who had connections with a well-known Detroit crime family. Mickelson was the victim in a bet gone bad — a half-million dollar win that went unpaid.
“I mean it happened 20-something years ago, but it’s just the lack of appreciation. I don’t see me coming back now.” — Golfer Phil Mickelson
Mickelson is playing the role of the victim, not of fraud, but of the news story that gives embarrassing details about his well-documented history of betting on sports. According to court documents, The Detroit News reported, DeSeranno was questioned about Mickelson after receiving immunity from federal prosecutors and testified in the 2007 racketeering trial of reputed organized crime leader Jack Giacalone.
The golfer known as “Lefty” received an appearance fee to come to this weekend’s tournament but maintains that because of the story, he won’t be coming back to Detroit.
“It was so much effort for me to be here and to have that type of unnecessary attack, not like I care,” Mickelson says. “I mean it happened 20-something years ago, but it’s just the lack of appreciation. I don’t see me coming back now.”
The Detroit News has taken a public relations hit from golf fans for the timing and substance of the story.
“It has not come to light before so I’m not sure you can call it an old story. And it is connected to the Detroit mob family and involves a golfer who’s very prominent and has been for several years,” says Gary Miles, the paper’s Editor and Publisher.
Snell is known for tracking down big stories by digging through public records, a big reason why he was the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists 2020 Journalist of the Year. Previously Snell ran afoul of local sports fans for uncovering something the Detroit Lions did not — a credible rape accusation against then-head coach Matt Patricia. Snell was also at the forefront of investigating corruption at the UAW and Fiat Chrysler.
The reporting was rigorous and went through appropriate checks.
“I think what some people may not understand is that that process takes time. And when you’re dealing with well-known public figures, you also put a degree of legal and other tutorial oversight over a story, because you recognize that there are repercussions to what you will print,” Miles says.