Phil Mickelson 'Deeply Sorry' for Saudi Golf League Comments: 'Has Always Been About Supporting' Players

The renowned golfer called his comments about moving forward with a Saudi Arabia-backed golf league "reckless," and said he knows he needs to be "accountable" for his words

Sentry Tournament of Champions - Round One
Phil Mickelson. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty

Phil Mickelson is addressing the backlash to the recent publication of comments he made about his involvement in the proposed Super Golf League, stating that he thought his remarks were part of an off-the-record conversation with a journalist.

In a lengthy statement issued on Tuesday, the 51-year-old golfer says, "Although it doesn't look this way now given my recent comments, my actions throughout this process have always been with the best interest of golf, my peers, sponsors, and fans."

"There is the problem of off record comments being shared out of context and without my consent, but the bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions," Mickelson says. "It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I'm beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this."

Mickelson — who has won six majors during his career, most recently the PGA Championship in 2021 — made headlines this month when comments he made to golf reporter Alan Shipnuck during a November 2021 conversation were published on the website the Fire Pit Collective as an excerpt from Shipnuck's new unauthorized biography about the athlete.

The golfer was discussing his involvement in the Super Golf League, a proposed new tour being funded by Saudia Arabia's Public Investment Fund, one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds. LIV Golf Investments, an investment company supported by the Public Investment Fund, is helmed by professional golfer Greg Norman and is reportedly leading the new league.

Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for human rights abuses and violence, including the prominent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Saudi journalist who had been publicly critical of the country's government, in 2018.

Calling the Saudis "scary motherf------ to get involved with," Mickelson told Shipnuck, "We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay."

He continued, "Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates."

Mickelson says in his Tuesday statement that his interest in the new league was fueled by his desire for better circumstances for professional players like himself.

"Golf desperately needs change, and real change is always preceded by disruption," says Mickelson. "I have always known that criticism would come with exploring anything new. I still chose to put myself at the forefront of this to inspire change, taking the hits publicly to do the work behind the scenes."

He adds, "My experience with LIV Golf Investments has been very positive. I apologize for anything I said that was taken out of context. The specific people I have worked with are visionaries and have only been supportive. More importantly, they passionately love golf and share my drive to make the game better. They have a clear plan to create an updated and positive experience for everyone including players, sponsors, networks, and fans."

Continuing in his statement, Mickelson thanks his "incredible partners," noting that many have been "influential mentors" and "lifelong friends." He says that "the last thing I would ever want to do is compromise them or their business in any way, and I have given all of them the option to pause or end the relationship as I understand it might be necessary given the current circumstances. I believe in these people and companies and will always be here for them with or without a contract."

"I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and many have been shared with the public," the veteran golfer continues. "My intent was never to hurt anyone and I'm so sorry to the people I have negatively impacted. This has always been about supporting the players and the game and I appreciate all the people who have given me the benefit of the doubt."

During the conversation with Shipnuck, which Mickelson says he believed was private, the athlete called the PGA Tour "manipulative" and said the league uses "strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse." He said he wasn't sure he was hoping the Super Golf League would succeed, but rather push forward progress within the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour has not commented on Mickelson's remarks.

Mickelson has also previously been outspoken previously about the PGA's control over players' media rights, which, as has reported, are signed over to the Tour, meaning the athletes don't have rights to archival media featuring them.

Of course, there has been much speculation reported about the proposed Super Golf League, with some major golfers revealing that they'd been approached to consider leaving the PGA Tour behind. Last May, The Telegraph's golf correspondent James Corrigan reported that commissioner Jay Monahan said that any players who joined the Super Golf League would face an "immediate ban" from the tour and a "lifetime suspension."

Mickelson previously said that the announcement of a potential competitor to the PGA Tour has allowed for "a much better environment," and led to the formation of the Player Impact Program in 2021. The program is a $40 million prize pool awarded at the end of each year to the 10 players that positively impacted golf as a sport, with the prize pool being raised to $50 million in 2022.

The athlete was also vocal in pushing for overhaul to the Ryder Cup point system, which ultimately led to the Americans' victory in 2016.

In his new statement, Mickelson says he believes that "some changes have already been made within the overall discourse," but that he knows "I need to be accountable."

"For the past 31 years I have lived a very public life and I have strived to live up to my own expectations, be the role model the fans deserve, and be someone that inspires others," says Mickelson. "I've worked to compete at the highest level, be available to media, represent my sponsors with integrity, engage with volunteers and sign every autograph for my incredible fans."

He concludes, "I have experienced many successful and rewarding moments that I will always cherish, but I have often failed myself and others too. The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be."

This is not the first time a major sports league has partnered with Saudi Arabia despite the government's offenses. Formula One hosted the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2021 and will follow it up in 2022. The WWE also hosts events in Saudi Arabia. Exact launch plans for the Super Golf League have not been announced.

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