Phil Mickelson issues apology over Saudi comments

Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson issued a lengthy statement Tuesday addressing comments he made in an interview about plans for a Saudi-backed golf league to rival the PGA Tour, adding that he “desperately (needs) some time away” from golf.

At issue was an excerpt of a book author Alan Shipnuck shared online last week, in which Mickelson called Saudi businessmen “scary m—–f—–s to get involved with.” He admitted he was using their interest in launching a rival league as leverage to get players more money from the tour via enhanced media rights.

“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,” Mickelson said. “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.”

Since those comments, high-profile golfers Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau announced they would remain on the PGA Tour rather than be swayed to the so-called Super Golf League, and Rory McIlroy called Mickelson’s comments “egotistical and ignorant” with the league “dead in the water.”

In a six-paragraph statement Tuesday, Mickelson did not directly acknowledge the PGA Tour, the Super Golf League or his peers’ criticism, and he hinted that Shipnuck took off-the-record remarks out of context.

“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 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. 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.”

Shipnuck took to Twitter to retort, saying Mickelson’s assertion that he used off-the-record comments was “completely false.”

Mickelson described his partnership with LIV Golf Investments, the Greg Norman-led group backed by Saudi money, as “very positive.”

“The specific people I have worked with are visionaries and have only been supportive,” Mickelson said. “More importantly they passionately love golf and share my drive to make the game better.”

Mickelson thanked his partners, and without naming any specifically, said he gave them the option to end or pause their relationships with Mickelson over the controversy. KPMG, a sponsor of Mickelson’s since 2008, took him up on it Tuesday.

“KPMG U.S. and Phil Mickelson have mutually agreed to end our sponsorship effective immediately. We wish him the best,” the company said in a release.

The 51-year-old also hinted at setting golf to the side for a while.

“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 … 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.”

Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship to become the oldest major winner in golf history. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.

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