Phil Mickelson Apologizes for Support of Saudi-Backed Golf League

Phil Mickelson on Tuesday said he regretted his recent comments in support of a breakaway golf tour backed by Saudi Arabia and suggested he might take a leave from the golf course to “prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

“I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions,” Mickelson said in a statement. “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.”

A proposed Super Golf League, whose main source of funding is the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, a sovereign wealth fund worth more than $400 billion, has tried over the last year to lure prominent golfers like Mickelson away from the long-established PGA Tour.

In an interview for an unauthorized biography to be released in May, Mickelson told the journalist Alan Shipnuck, the book’s author, that he knew of the kingdom’s “horrible record on human rights,” but said he was willing to help the new league because it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to dramatically increase the income of PGA Tour players.

In a story posted last week on The Firepit Collective, a golf website, Shipnuck quoted Mickelson, a six-time major golf champion, as saying the Saudi authorities were “scary” and using a profanity to describe them. Mickelson also noted the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist who was assassinated in 2018 with the approval of the kingdom’s crown prince, according to U.S. intelligence officials, and alluded to the criminalization of homosexuality in Saudi Arabia, where it is punishable by death.

Mickelson’s comments spurred a vociferous backlash from the highest-ranking players on the PGA Tour, almost all of whom have publicly rebuffed the new, alternative league. Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner and one of the tour’s most respected players, called Mickelson’s remarks, “naïve, selfish, egotistical, ignorant.”

McIlroy’s contemporaries, a younger breed that now represents professional golf’s hierarchy, were similarly dismissive of the comments attributed to Mickelson, who is 51.

“I don’t do this for the money, which to me is the only appeal to go over there,” Jon Rahm, 27, said of the upstart Super Golf League. Added Rahm, who is atop the men’s golf rankings: “They throw numbers at you that’s supposed to impress people. I’m in this game for the love of golf and the love of the game and to become a champion.”

Mickelson’s longtime rival Tiger Woods also professed his fealty to the PGA Tour, which is based in America. And Mickelson’s comments may have fostered even more support for it as two more top golfers, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau — both of whom had been noncommittal about the new league — announced that they were sticking with the tour.

Late Tuesday afternoon, KPMG, a professional services firm and a longstanding Mickelson sponsor, announced that it would end its relationship with Mickelson effective immediately.

Mickelson’s statement on Tuesday could be an attempt to ward off a possible suspension from the tour. He said his actions had always “been with the best interest of golf, my peers, sponsors and fans.”

He also implied that his remarks were “off-record comments being shared out of context and without my consent.”

Minutes after Mickelson released his statement, Shipnuck, on Twitter, called Mickelson’s contention that his comments had been off the record “completely false.”

While Mickelson’s statement on Tuesday was rambling, he seemed to be trying to make the case that alternatives to the PGA Tour were not without merit.

“Golf desperately needs change, and real change is always preceded by disruption,” he said. “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, a popular player who won the P.G.A. Championship in 2021, addressed his corporate sponsors who may be unwilling to continue their relationships with him.

“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,” he said, adding: “I believe in these people and companies and will always be here for them with or without a contract.”

Mickelson concluded his statement with a discussion of his triumphs and setbacks.

“I have experienced many successful and rewarding moments that I will always cherish, but I have often failed myself and others, too,” he said. “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.”

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