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Phil Mickelson Claims Some Saudi-Related Comments Off The Record

Hall of Famer releases statement, apologizing for some words but taking ownership of working with LIV Golf Investments, which is funding the proposed Saudi league; KPMG ends sponsorship deal with six-time major champion.
Phil Mickelson issued a long statement Tuesday, apologizing for some of his comments concerning the proposed Saudi golf league.

Phil Mickelson issued a long statement Tuesday, apologizing for some of his comments concerning the proposed Saudi golf league.

Embroiled in controversy over recent comments made about the PGA Tour and a potential Saudi-backed golf league, Phil Mickelson on Tuesday released a long statement in which he took ownership of what he said, suggested that some of his comments were meant to be off the record, and will be taking some time off to assess the situation.

However, while Mickelson is being contrite for some of the language he has used, he remains unapologetic that he has worked with LIV Golf Investments, which is funding the proposed Saudi league. He continues to believe his efforts are helping transform the professional game.

“Golf desperately needs change, and real change is always preceded by disruption,’’ Mickelson said in his statement. “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.

“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.’’

Mickelson, 51, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who last May became the oldest player to win a major championship, has been highly critical of the PGA Tour, referring in a Golf Digest story to “obnoxious greed’’ and quoted in a story last week in the Fire Pit Collective that he was using the Greg Norman-fronted league as leverage against the Tour.

“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,’’ Mickelson said. “There is a 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.

“It was reckless, I offended people and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I am beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.’’

Mickelson told author Alan Shipnuck during an interview for an upcoming book that backers of the proposed Saudi league are “scary m-----f------ to get involved with’’ and that the purpose behind LIV Golf Investments was the Saudi government’s attempts at “sportswashing.’’

“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. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape how the PGA Tour operates.

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“They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics be 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.’’

Shipnuck said on Twitter Tuesday that he stands by those comments being on the record. And he discussed it early on a podcast.

“I got one text from (Mickelson). He was displeased,’’ Shipnuck said on “The Fire Pit” podcast. “He tried to go down that road, ‘I thought this was a private conversation between you and I.’ I shot that down really fast and his heart wasn’t in it, anyway.

“I don’t know what he’s going to say going forward but he knows it was an on-the-record conversation and it was for the book and he never asked for any of this to be private. You can spin a lot of things but it’s hard to lie face-to-face with the person who knows the truth. He can tell whatever he wants to a lot of people but he and I know what happened.’’

Mickelson is among several prominent players who have been talking to LIV Golf Investments, the company for which Norman is the CEO. The goal is to invest in golf entities, among them a proposed new league that would offer massive guaranteed payouts while providing a 14-tournament schedule with 54-hole events, $20 million purses and no cuts.

Mickelson has been critical of the PGA Tour’s business setup, suggesting that it is hoarding substantial sums, including millions of dollars from player media rights.

The proposed league, however, took a serious hit in the wake of Mickelson’s recent reported comments. Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau announced Sunday they would be sticking by the PGA Tour. Other players such as Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas said the same.

McIlroy was critical of Mickelson’s comments on Sunday, saying: “I don't want to kick someone while he's down obviously, but I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant. A lot of words to describe that interaction he had with [writer Alan] Shipnuck. It was just very surprising and disappointing, sad. I'm sure he's sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.’’

From here, Mickelson said he will take some time off. It’s possible that the PGA Tour has suspended him for “conduct unbecoming’’ a professional golfer, but the Tour typically does not announce such sanctions. One of Mickelson's major sponsors, KPMG, reached an agreement with Mickelson to end its sponsorship agreement.

More Phil Mickelson Coverage:

- Roundtable: Writers Discuss Off-Record Interviews, Phil's Next Move
- Timeline: Phil Mickelson and the Saudi Golf League, From Beginning to Today
- 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