Phil Mickelson ‘deeply sorry’ for ‘reckless’ words about Saudi league, claims comments were off the record

Following a week in which he was under a firestorm of criticism from the biggest names and voices in the world of golf, Phil Mickelson broke his silence Tuesday by releasing a lengthy statement acknowledging recent comments he made about the Saudi Arabian-owned Super Golf League. Mickelson was apologetic about answers he gave to Alan Shipnuck that seemed to rip a hole in the hull of the SGL, sinking the league before it even left port.

“I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions,” Mickelson said as part of a larger statement. “It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words.”

The SGL is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (essentially the government’s financial arm). It ostensibly planned to play in some form under the banner of the Asian Tour with a goal of taking top names in the PGA Tour by luring them with riches and a lighter schedule.

Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson were purported to be the headliners of the league, which would have featured 12 four-golfer teams and competed mostly in the United States. All of that unwound last week when comments from a conversation Mickelson had with Shipnuck were released.

Mickelson called the folks funding the Super Golf League, “scary motherf—ers to get involved with,” according to Shipnuck. He added: “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 once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

Even a week later, the comments remain astounding; they likely always will hold that shock factor. Mickelson went on to say that he wasn’t sure whether he cared if the league he helped create — he and others wrote the operating agreement — even succeeded. His only concern was that it allowed him and others to “get things done with the [PGA] Tour”.

All of this came on the heels of Mickelson calling the PGA Tour out for its “obnoxious greed” while he was playing the Saudi International in early February.

DeChambeau and Johnson bailed on the SGL with statements released Sunday. Those came just after several other PGA Tour stars — notably Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm — voiced their vociferous support of the PGA Tour. The only player hanging in the balance was Mickelson.

Lefty attempted to explain himself with a Tuesday statement.

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. 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.    

Mickelson went on to apologize to investors as well as his sponsors and fans. He ended with a broad apology for how the last 10 years have gone and implied that he won’t be playing golf for a while.

… I have often failed myself and others too.  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.

Interestingly, there was no commitment to the PGA Tour and no real nod toward the future at all in Mickelson’s statement. Whereas Johnson wholeheartedly committed to the Tour and DeChambeau said it was his preferred league for now, Lefty allowed that question to hang.

In fact, he said the folks he has worked with at LIV Golf Investments “are visionaries and have only been supportive”, adding that 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.”

Whether that plan goes forward, and whether it takes place with or without Mickelson, remains to be seen. But this was far from an “I’m coming home ” announcement or a pledge to be at the PGA Tour’s crown jewel event, The Players Championship, in two weeks.

Where Mickelson turns up again is anyone’s guess. It’s clear that he’s embarrassed by the quotes that came out, and he should be. McIlroy called they were “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant”. That about sums it up.

Lefty has two skills that might be peerless in golf history: His ability to wriggle out of any kind of trouble (on or off the course) and his longevity. With one article last week following months (maybe years) of rumor mongering, both characteristics will put to the test, perhaps more than ever before.

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