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'I Don't Plan on Just Giving It Up': Phil Mickelson Reiterates Desire to Keep PGA Tour Membership

In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday at the LIV Golf opener, Mickelson discussed gambling, the Saudi influence on the series and why, unlike several fellow players in the new venture, he wants to maintain his PGA Tour status.
Phil Mickelson is pictured in 2021 at the PGA Championship.

By virtue of his longevity and success, Phil Mickelson has lifetime status on the PGA Tour and he said he wishes to keep it despite signing to play on the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

HERTFORDSHIRE, England — Phil Mickelson would not say whether or not he was suspended by the PGA Tour, reiterated his desire to stay a member and take advantage of his lifetime status, and said he would no longer discuss the issues he has with the circuit publicly.

Mickelson was also asked several questions about playing for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series, the country’s poor human rights record and its 2018 murder of U.S. resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, his gambling issues and what he did in the four months he spent away from the game.

The six-time major champion was part of a LIV Golf Invitational news conference on Wednesday morning at the Centurion Club, where the first event in the new venture’s series begins on Thursday.

But aside from a moderator’s opening questions, the other players — Justin Harding, Chase Koepka and Ratchanon Chantananuwat — were more or less observers as Mickelson questions filled the 30-minute session.

Mickelson did a one-on-one interview with SI.com/Morning Read on Monday in which he covered a good bit of the ground he was presented with on Wednesday, reiterating his desire to remain a PGA Tour member.

"I have been a part of the Tour for more 30 years and I’ve had a lot of incredible memories that have been formed and experiences that I’ve shared, tournaments that I’ve won and been a part of tournaments that I’ve lost," Mickelson said.

"I’ve also gained a lot. I’ve received a lot from the PGA Tour. I’m very grateful for that. I’m grateful for everything. The PGA Tour and the game of golf has provided for me and my family. I’ve also worked really hard to contribute and try to build and add value to the Tour during my time there.

“And I’ve worked really hard to earn a lifetime exemption. And I don’t want to give that up. I don’t believe I should have to. I don’t know what that means for the future but I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’ve earned that and I don’t plan on just giving it up."

Players who are active for 15 years and win a minimum of 20 tournaments are given lifetime status.

Mickelson’s 20th victory came in 2002 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic; having started his pro career in 1992, he became a lifetime member after the 2007 season.

PGA Tour members who compete in the LIV Golf Invitational Series face sanctions from commissioner Jay Monahan, who did not grant conflicting-event releases.

It has caused others, such as Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Sergio Garcia and Kevin Na, to forego membership in order to avoid such retribution.

The general feeling is that by not being subject to penalties, it enhances their ability to compete in the major championships, whose governing bodies would then not be in the awkward position of having to decide whether or not to honor such a suspension.

The United States Golf Association on Tuesday said it would not be prohibiting players who compete in the LIV event from playing next week’s U.S. Open at The Country Club.

Another factor in the LIV association is how it might impact future Ryder Cup participation, including captaincies. Under normal circumstances, Mickelson would undoubtedly by a future U.S. captain.

He played in 12 straight Ryder Cups from 1995 through 2018 and was an assistant on Steve Stricker’s winning team last year. In theory, he’d be an assistant for Davis Love III at the Presidents Cup this year and for Zach Johnson at the Ryder Cup next year. All of that is unclear at the moment.

“I’m hopeful to be part of the Ryder Cup going forward," he said. "But that’s not the reason to maintain my membership. It’s because I’ve earned it. I believe all players should have the right to play whenever and wherever they want, which is consistent with being an independent contractor."

Asked about the players who gave up their membership because they feared penalties, Mickelson said: “I saw that and I think that they’re making the decision that they believe is best for them professionally. And I respect that.

“As a lifetime member I’m not required to play 15 events. I don’t have to play any. And so I don’t see the reason for me to give that up."

And that is about as far as Mickelson would go in talking about any PGA Tour-related issues. His “obnoxious greed’’ comments said to Golf Digest in February and his subsequent criticism of the Tour are, in part, why he took the lengthy break.

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“I’ve had some incredible experiences, some great memories, and I have a lot of strong opinions on things that should and could be a lot better," he said. “One of the mistakes I’ve made is voicing those publicly. So I will really make an effort to keep those conversations behind closed doors going forward. I think that’s the way to be most efficient and get the most out of it."

That is why Mickelson said he would not disclose whether or not the PGA Tour suspended him. The comments that were highly critical of the Tour could have led to such a penalty, but the PGA Tour never announces disciplinary matters.

Mickelson at the time was also highly critical of the Saudi regime whose sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, is the source of the money being paid to players by LIV Golf Investments.

Mickelson is reportedly getting $200 million as part of his contract to play the Series for an unspecified number of years.

“I believe that contract figures should be private," Mickelson said. “Doesn’t seem to be the case but it should be."

As part of the conjecture surrounding Mickelson’s participation was the theory that he needed the big money in order to deal with gambling debts. When asked about that, Mickelson said:

“I've been handling it for many years now. You're talking about something that was almost a decade ago, and look, me and my family have been financially secure for I can't remember how long, but it was certainly going to be threatened if I didn't address this, and I did. I've had hundreds of hours therapy and I've worked tirelessly for many years, and I feel really good about where I'm at.

“And yeah, I'm proud of the work I've done. So I've addressed the issue, and will continue to do so the rest of my life.’’

The first four questions Mickelson received after opening remarks dealt with the Saudi influence on LIV Golf, his previous comments about the regime and if it was worth doing this to get leverage in talks with the PGA Tour.

“Well, certainly, I've made, said and done a lot of things that I regret, and I'm sorry for that and for the hurt that it's caused a lot of people," he said. 

"I don't — I don't condone human rights violations at all. Nobody here does, throughout the world. I'm certainly aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi, and I think it's terrible.

“I've also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history, and I believe that LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game as well. And I'm excited about this opportunity. That's why I'm here.’’

Asked about the idea that Saudi Arabia is using golf as a tool of sportswashing, and if competing here could tarnish his legacy, Mickelson said:

“I said earlier, I don't condone human rights violations. I don't know how I can be any more clear. I understand your question.

“But again, I love this game of golf. I've seen the good that it's done, and I see the opportunity for LIV Golf to do a lot of good for the game throughout the world and I'm excited to be a part of this opportunity.’’

Asked about his “leverage’’ comment and representing the people he was using to do that, that is when Mickelson said he would be best to keep such comments in the future private.

Regarding his February apology, Mickelson was asked if he was “sorry for the shameless hypocrisy of taking their money anyway?’’

Mickelson said: “I understand people have very strong opinions and may disagree with my decision, and I can empathize with that. But at this time, this is an opportunity that gives me a chance to have the most balance in my life going forward, and I think this is going to do a lot of good for the game.’’

After the press conference, Mickelson was scheduled to play in a pro-am with Lee Westwood (two pros) and three amateurs: Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund; Cho Minn Thant, the CEO of the Asian Tour; and Vicente Rubio, president of Finca Coresin, site of next year’s Solheim Cup.

The 48-player field is comprised of 17 of the top 100 players in the Official World Golf Ranking who will play for a $25 million purse.

Of that, $20 million is to be paid for the individual portion, with $4 million to the winner. The team aspect — 12 teams of four players — has a $5 million pool, with the top team splitting $3 million, $1.5 million going to the runner-up team and $500,000 going to the team that finishes third.