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Phil Mickelson and Saudi Golf League Timeline: Beginning to Now

Timeline traces path back two years for Mickelson's interest, involvement with a golf league to rival the PGA Tour.
Phil Mickelson's interest in a rival golf league appears to start during a pro-am round at the Saudi International in 2020.

Phil Mickelson's interest in a rival golf league appears to start during a pro-am round at the Saudi International in 2020.

Phil Mickelson has been associated with a rival league to the PGA Tour dating back more than two years ago, first with the Premier Golf League and later a proposed Saudi Arabian-backed league.

In February, two separate interviews brought Mickelson a barrage of criticism. Ultimately, Mickelson, 51, issued a statement of apology and two sponsors ended their respective relationships with the six-time major champion.

Mickelson then went dark and quietly abstained from playing the Masters. On Monday, two months after parting ways with a longtime sponsor, Mickelson resurfaced.  

Following is a timeline of how Mickelson reached this point:

January 29, 2020

Mickelson plays in the European Tour’s Saudi International pro-am with a group that includes Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation; Colin Neville, a sports consultant for Raine Group, a reported partner in the Premier Golf League bid; and Andrew Gardiner, a director at Barclays Capital.

At the time, the Premier Golf League reportedly had the financial backing of Saudi Arabian investors and was viewed as the primary threat to the PGA Tour.

"It was fascinating to talk with them and ask some questions and see what their plans are," Mickelson says. "Where they started, how they started, why and just got their background, which was very interesting."

February 2020-May 2021

Days after the pro-am, Greg Norman expresses his optimism in the PGL.

"It’s just a matter of getting all the right components together, whether players stay together," says Norman, who tried and failed to create a rival World Golf Tour in the 1990s. “With my original concept, some players loved it and others didn’t like it. I had corporate, I had television, but you need 100 percent of the pie to be together before we can bake it. From what I’m seeing here, this one has every chance of getting off the ground."

Throughout February, there is a buzz about the PGL. Tiger Woods admits to being contacted; Rory McIlroy, then world No. 1, states he has no interest; and Gardiner, with whom Mickelson played the pro-am in Saudi Arabia, is announced as the PGL’s CEO.

In fall 2020, the PGL approaches European Tour CEO Keith Pelley with a proposal that is turned down. In November 2020, the PGA and European (now known as the DP World) tours announce a strategic alliance to help counter a rival uprising.

May 4, 2021

After months of little news, a story in The [London] Telegraph surfaces that numerous prominent players are being offered between $30-$50 million — then-world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose worth up to $100 million — to break from the PGA Tour.

Mickelson is reportedly offered $100 million to help shepherd big-name players to the league.

October 27, 2021

A new league backed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is announced in a private media session in New York. The league names Norman as the new commissioner of the league.

Also, the Premier Golf League reportedly reached out to the PGA Tour as early as September 2021 to propose a merger, but Tour officials did not react. The rebuff appears to take the PGL out of play.

October 29, 2021

Two days after being named commissioner of a proposed Saudi-backed league, Norman is announced as CEO of LIV Golf Investments, which is backed by Public Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia with reported assets of more than $500 billion.

LIV Golf Investments’ first order of business is to commit $200 million in prize money over a 10-year period to help fund a series of 10 annual events on the Asian Tour starting in 2022.

November 21, 2021

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sends a memo to players outlining that 85 percent of the tour’s consolidated revenue is tournament-related — either from sponsors or from domestic and international media. Also, Monahan wrote that 55 percent of the Tour’s 2021 revenue will be paid to the players in the form of prize money, bonus programs and other benefits. This is apparently in response to Mickelson claiming on Gary Williams’ “5 Clubs” podcast in September that the Tour only pays 26 percent of its revenue to the players.

November 2021

Mickelson has a nearly hourlong telephone conversation with Alan Shipnuck, a former Sports Illustrated journalist who now writes for the Fire Pit Collective and is authoring an unauthorized biography about Mickelson that is scheduled for a May 2022 printing.

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In the conversation with Shipnuck, who did not reveal the details of the call until Feb. 17, Mickelson speaks untethered on a number of topics regarding the Saudis and the proposed league.

While Mickelson is not eager to join the new league, he believes he could use the upstart as leverage against the PGA Tour.

“They’re scary m-----f------ to get involved with,” Mickelson said of the Saudi Arabians. “We know they killed (Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights,” Mickelson said. “They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape how the PGA Tour operates.

“They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics but we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as (PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan) comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want (the new league) to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the (PGA) Tour.”

February 2, 2022

In an interview with Golf Digest while playing in the PIF Saudi International, Mickelson speaks of the PGA Tour’s “obnoxious greed,” which was leading players to consider playing in the Saudi-backed league that reportedly offers larger purses, guaranteed payouts and 54-hole, no-cut tournaments.

“It’s not public knowledge, all that goes on,’’ Mickelson said. “But the players don’t have access to their own media. If the Tour wanted to end any threat, they could just hand back the media rights to the players. But they would rather throw $25 million here and $40 million there than give back the roughly $20 billion in digital assets they control. Or give up access to the $50-plus million they make every year on their own media channel.

“There are many issues but that is one of the biggest. For me personally, it’s not enough that they are sitting on hundreds of millions of digital moments. They also have access to my shots, access I do not have. They also charge companies to use shots I have hit. And when I did ‘The Match’ — there have been five of them — the tour forced me to pay them $1 million each time. For my own media rights. That type of greed is, to me, beyond obnoxious.”

The PGA Tour offers no comment.

February 17, 2022

Shipnuck publishes parts of his November interview with Mickelson on the Fire Pit Collective website.

Along with his incendiary comments about the Saudis, Mickelson adds that he and three other unnamed players paid for attorneys to draft the proposed league’s operating plan. Mickelson also suggests that the league, which has the backing of LIV Golf Investments, is part of the Saudi government’s attempts at “sportswashing.”

February 20, 2022

The list of prominent players who pledge their allegiance to the PGA Tour continues to grow as first Dustin Johnson and then Bryson DeChambeau say their home is with the PGA Tour.

The statements from Johnson and DeChambeau are viewed as major blows to the Saudi league.

February 22, 2022

With the proposed Saudi league on the ropes with no big-name players to boast, Mickelson attempts to apologize for his recent comments, though in his statement there is no mention of the PGA Tour.

While Mickelson takes some accountability for his words, he suggests that some of his comments from the November interview were meant to be off the record — a claim that Shipnuck rebukes.

“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,” Mickelson said.

In the statement, Mickelson is positive in his comments of LIV Golf Investments and offers those brands with which he is associated “the option to pause or end the relationship as I understand it might be necessary given the current circumstances.”

Around the time Mickelson releases his statement, KPMG, which has been a sponsor of Mickelson since 2008, ends its endorsement agreement. Hours later, Heineken N.V., whose Amstel Light brand Mickelson endorsed, cuts ties with the Hall-of-Famer. 

February 25, 2022

Callaway Golf becomes the latest sponsor to break with Mickelson, saying it was going to 'pause' a relationship that dates back to 2004. In 2017, Callaway signed Mickelson to a lifetime extension. 

April 25, 2022

Two months after Callaway and Mickelson pause their relationship and Mickelson goes dark, agent Steve Loy, co-president of SportFive, issues a statement on his client's behalf

“Our client client Phil Mickelson is officially registered to play in the PGA Championship as well as the U.S. Open. We have also filed a request on his behalf for a release to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational in London, June 9-11. This request complies with the deadline of April 25 set forth by the PGA Tour to compete in a conflicting tour event.

There has been no comments or social media posts from Mickelson. 

More Phil Mickelson Coverage:

- Roundtable: Writers Discuss Off-Record Interviews, Phil's Next Move
- Mickelson Saga is Latest Example of Phil's Ego, Recklessness
- Mickelson Says Interview was Off Record, Apologizes for Word Choice
- Koepka Says Everyone on Tour is Happy -- Except Phil
- Monahan Says PGA Tour Focused on Legacy, Not Leverage