Phil Mickelson, making his first public appearance since February, neither confirmed nor denied that he was suspended or banned by the PGA Tour for joining rival Tour LIV Golf Series.
“I choose not to speak publicly on PGA Tour matters at this time,” Mickelson said Wednesday morning.
Mickelson has repeatedly emphasized that he regrets recent controversial comments that led to his decision to step away from golf for a while, including his decision not to defend his PGA Championship title last month.
“I said and did a lot of things that I regret,” Mickelson said. “I am sorry for this and I am sorry for the damage this has caused to many people. »
Mickelson is part of a group of 48 players in the new LIV Golf Series who will hold their first event on Thursday at the Centurion Club near London. Also among the participants are Kevin Na and Dustin Johnson, who were among the many golfers who announced last week that they would be giving up their PGA Tour memberships.
Sources previously told ESPN Network’s Mark Schlabach that PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan told players’ agents at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, last week that players had to choose whether to go. to play on the PGA TOUR or the LIV Golf Series and couldn’t play both. Monahan threatened players who participated in the London competition without permission with disciplinary action, including fines, suspensions and/or bans.
Mickelson fielded reporters’ questions for nearly 30 minutes, but repeatedly declined to elaborate on comments he made to reporter Alan Shipnuck, published in February, in which he said LIV Golf Series owners were “sons of frightening bitches.”
The LIV Golf series is backed by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Salman has been accused of numerous human rights violations, including the murder of the journalist from Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
“I absolutely do not tolerate human rights violations,” Mickelson defended. “Nobody here does it, anywhere in the world. I’m certainly aware of what happened with Jamal Khashoggi, and I think it’s terrible. I have also seen the good that golf has done throughout history, and I believe that the LIV Golf series will also do a lot of good for golf. I am excited about this opportunity, and that is why I am here. »
Mickelson chose his words carefully throughout the news conference, pausing several times as he seemed to consider how to broach an issue before opening his mouth. He cracked a few jokes and took a sip of his personal brand of therapeutic coffee from a mug with his personal logo on it, but he mostly looked somber as he considered his responses.
He said that during his four months away from golf, he traveled with his family, spent time in therapy and watched golf on television.
“I had a four-month break from the game that I haven’t had in over three decades,” Mickelson said. “I had the opportunity to spend time with my wife, Amy, and travel to parts of the world, hang out at a place we have in Montana to ski and hike in Sedona. It gave me time to look for work and therapy in areas where I have gaps in my life. It gave me time to think about what I want to do in the future and what is best for me and the people I love.”
Mickelson confirmed that he tried to address some of his behaviors, particularly his problem with excessive gambling, which he says were negatively affecting his personal life.
“I’ve been dealing with it for many years,” Mickelson said. “My family and I have been financially secure for…I can’t even remember how long. But he would definitely be threatened if he didn’t address this issue. And I did it. »
Mickelson said he hasn’t given up as a member of the PGA Tour and has no plans to, but he’s just not sure what his future on the PGA might look like.
“I have won a lot from the PGA Tour and I have received a lot. I worked very hard to contribute and add value to the circuit during my stay. I worked very hard to get a lifetime exemption, and I don’t want to give it up and I don’t think I should.
“I don’t know what this means for my future. I do not know what will happen. But I earned it, and I have no intention of giving it up. »
Though he previously suggested he was using the LIV Golf Series as “leverage” to push through some changes on the PGA Tour, Mickelson declined to say what changes still interest him.
“I have a lot of strong opinions about things that should and could be a lot better. One of the mistakes I’ve made is expressing them publicly. Therefore, I will endeavor to hold these talks behind closed doors in the future. I think that’s the way to be more effective and get the most out of it. »
Mickelson said he plans to play the US Open next week at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, and feels better about his game than he has in months.
He said he thought, based on his conversations with the organizers, that he would have been welcome at the Masters Tournament or the PGA Championship. But he didn’t feel his game was good enough to compete.
“Every day of the Masters Tournament, I would ski in the morning and watch the tournament afterwards. I liked seeing it. I thought Scottie Scheffler put on an amazing performance. I found myself missing the Masters Tournament, but I didn’t want to be there. had not played. He hadn’t touched a stick. I couldn’t be competitive. But I’ll always love this tournament, and if I’m not there, I’ll always miss it, but I didn’t want to be there. »
He said he felt the same way about the Southern Hills PGA Championship. Mickelson was the first major tournament champion in modern history to opt out of defending his title by choice, not injury.
“It became clear to me in long conversations that he was capable of playing if he wanted to. I just chose not to. »
Near the end of the press conference, Mickelson couldn’t resist a small smile when asked if he was actually receiving $200 million from the LIV Golf Series for his participation.
“I think contractual agreements should be private. It doesn’t look like it, but it should be. »