Mickelson backs off tax talk

The golfer apologizes for his statement about higher rates. Tax experts say that wasn't his only miscalculation.

By Jason Notte Jan 24, 2013 1:57PM
File photo of Phil Mickelson in July 2012 ( Hunter Martin/Getty Images)Phil Mickelson admits he bogeyed his statements on taxes, but he might also want to double check the math on his financial scorecard before filing this year.

The Hall of Fame golfer has taken home $66 million in winnings during his career and ranks seventh on Forbes' 2012 list of the world’s highest-paid athletes. Last year alone, he took in $4.8 million in earnings and another $43 million in endorsements.

On Sunday, after his final round of the Humana Challenge in California, he said the federal tax rate combined with California passing Proposition 30 -- the first tax increase in the state since 2004 -- would force him to make "drastic changes" and prevent him from owning a stake in his hometown San Diego Padres.

"If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate is 62, 63%," Mickelson said. "So I've got to make some decisions on what I'm going to do."

Wednesday, he backed off of those statements during a press conference and equated them to a shot he shanked into sponsors' tents during the 2006 U.S. Open to cost him the title.

As he was making those statements, researchers at the Tax Foundation were telling CNN that Mickelson's tax rate is likely closer to 51%, but that he may pay as little as 26%.

Mickelson didn't rule out leaving San Diego and California altogether and wouldn't clarify whether or not he thought he was paying his fair share. ("I don't know what that is right now," he told reporters Wednesday, according to ESPN.) However, he apologized profusely for complaining publicly about taxes on his millions in a state where unemployment is just under 10%.

"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," Mickelson said. "I think that was insensitive to discuss it in that forum."

Fudging the math didn't help his case, either. According to the Tax Foundation, Mickelson would be subject to the 39.6% top federal tax rate passed under the fiscal cliff deal, the top 12.3% state tax rate, the 1% California mental health surcharge and a 3.8% medicare tax rate. With state taxes deductible from federal taxes, that puts Mickelson's rate at roughly 51%. Deductions tend to add up, as the Tax Foundation also notes that millionaires tend to pay only 26% in federal income tax on average.

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