Phil Mickelson Apologizes After Saudi League Comments

Pro golfer said he would consider playing for Saudi Arabia despite its record on human rights
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 18, 2022 12:43 PM CST
Updated Feb 23, 2022 1:20 AM CST
Mickelson in New Storm Over Comments on Saudi League
Phil Mickelson is seen at the Tournament of Champions golf event on Jan. 7, 2022, at Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii.   (AP Photo/Matt York)

Updated: Phil Mickelson is sorry. In a tweeted statement Tuesday, the golfer apologized for the "reckless" comments that came out last week, and insisted he has always had the best interests of golf, his peers, his sponsors, and fans of the sport at heart. "There is the problem of off-the-record comments being shared out of context and without my consent, but the bigger issue is that I used words that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions," he wrote. (The golf writer who shared the comments, however, says that is false, the New York Post reports.) Mickelson, who has skipped the PGA Tour's past four events, seemed to indicate he would be taking more time away, ESPN reports. He also lost one sponsor, KPMG. Our original story from Feb. 18 follows:

Phil Mickelson hasn't been kind of late to the PGA Tour, which he's played on as a pro golfer for 30 years. In an interview earlier this month with Golf Digest, Mickelson railed against what he paints as the tour's stranglehold on players' media rights, accusing it of "obnoxious" greed. Now, Alan Shipnuck of the Fire Pit Collective is revealing a November phone call with the 51-year-old Hall of Famer, in which Mickelson continued his bashing of the PGA Tour, with one eyebrow-raising quote in particular about why he's considering a controversial move to join a Saudi-financed breakaway league, per Golfweek.

"They're scary motherf---ers to get involved with," Mickelson told Shipnuck, who posted an excerpt from his upcoming book Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf's Most Colorful Superstar. "We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and US 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." Mickelson noted that even though he felt the Saudi Golf League was nothing more than a "sportswashing" operation, it would give players "leverage" in dealing with the PGA Tour's "manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics."

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Mickelson went on to call the PGA Tour a "dictatorship" and claimed he had "20 guys" who are ready to defect to the SGL. "If the tour doesn't do the right thing, there is a high likelihood it's going to happen," he said. The SGL is reportedly going to get its cash infusions from Saudi Arabia's $500 billion Public Investment Fund, reports ESPN. The PGA Tour hasn't responded yet to Mickelson, but Justin Thomas, ranked No. 8, told ESPN that Mickelson's comments were "a pretty, you know, egotistical statement. ... He's done a lot of great things for the PGA Tour ... but him and others that are very adamant about that [the SGL], if they're that passionate, go ahead. I don't think anybody's stopping them." Deadspin, meanwhile, referenced Mickelson's remarks earlier this month about the PGA Tour's greed. "Pot, meet kettle," the site declared. (More Phil Mickelson stories.)

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