Phil Mickelson has refused to confirm or deny if he has been banned or suspended by the PGA Tour for his involvement in the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.
Mickelson has not competed since February’s Saudi International, missing the Masters and his title defence in the US PGA Championship following the fallout from his explosive comments about Saudi Arabia and the PGA Tour.
The six-time major winner described the Saudis as “scary m************” and said he was well aware of Saudi Arabia’s “horrible record on human rights” – including the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi – in an interview with the author of an unauthorised biography.
Yet he added that working with the Saudis was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates” and also accused the Tour of “obnoxious greed”.
The 51-year-old’s lengthy absence led to speculation that he had been suspended, but speaking at a press conference ahead of the first LIV Golf event at Centurion Club, Mickelson refused to confirm if he had been suspended, or currently was.
“I choose not to speak publicly on PGA Tour issues at this time,” he said.
Mickelson also declined to confirm if he was receiving USD 200million (£159.5m) to compete in the LIV Golf events, but his answer indicated that the reported amount may well be accurate.
“I feel that contract agreements should be private,” Mickelson added. “Doesn’t seem to be the case, but it should be.”
An unshaven Mickelson was unusually subdued throughout the press conference, often pausing before answering questions and choosing his words carefully.
“I have really enjoyed my time on the PGA Tour,” he said when asked how he ended up representing the people he claimed he was using for “leverage” against the PGA Tour.
“I’ve had some incredible experiences, some great memories and have a lot of strong opinions that should and could be a lot better.
“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 the most efficient and get the most out of it.”
While a number of players have resigned from the PGA Tour to compete on the rival circuit, a move which rules two-time major winner Dustin Johnson out of the Ryder Cup, Mickelson has no intention of following suit.
“I’ve been part of the Tour for over 30 years and I’m grateful for everything the Tour and the game of golf has provided for me and my family,” he added.
“I’ve also worked really hard to contribute and build and try to add value to the Tour and I 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’m hopefully able to be a part of the Ryder Cup going forward but that’s not the reason for me to maintain my membership. It’s because I’ve earned it. I believe all players should have the right to play wherever and whenever they want.”
Mickelson said his lifetime membership of the PGA Tour means he does not have to play the standard 15 events a year to retain his privileges, yet also claimed the LIV Golf Series – eight this year, 10 in 2023 and 14 in 2024 – allows him to “play less and have a better balance in life, on and off the course”.
He added: “I know it gives me a lot of positives personally and professionally and I believe it does the same for everyone else in the field.”
Mickelson was asked several times about Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund being the source of the money behind LIV Golf and the kingdom’s human rights record.
“I don’t condone human rights violations at all,” he said. “I’m certainly aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi and I think it’s terrible.
“Nobody here condones human rights violations and nobody is trying to make up for anything. I don’t know how to say it any more assertively.
“I have also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history and I believe LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game as well.”
Amnesty International renewed its call for players to speak out about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, rather than being “willing stooges” of sportswashing.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “It’s been extremely disappointing to hear a number of golf’s best-known figures attempting to play down the terrible murder of Jamal Khashoggi while sidestepping the real gravity of Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record.
“Platitudes about golf being a ‘force for change’ mean very little if players are acting as unofficial arms of the Saudi government’s PR machine.
“Contrary to the rhetoric coming from some players, Saudi Arabia has become more repressive in recent years not less – human rights defenders and peaceful critics have been locked up, torture in jails is rife, and mass executions have shocked the world.
“Rather than acting as the willing stooges of Saudi sportswashing, we’d like to see golfers at the LIV Golf Invitational speaking out about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.”
More “willing stooges” look set to join the breakaway circuit imminently, with Bryson DeChambeau’s manager Brett Falkoff responding to a report that the former US Open champion would contest the second event in Oregon at the end of the month.
“Bryson has always been an innovator,” Falkoff said in a statement released to various American media outlets.
“Having the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something unique has always been intriguing to him. Professional golf as we know it is changing and it’s happening quickly.”
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