Phil Mickelson, who has made his first public appearance since February, has neither confirmed nor denied he was suspended or banned by the PGA Tour for joining his Tour LIV Golf Series competitor.
“I have chosen not to speak publicly about matters relating to the PGA Tour at this time,” Mickelson said Wednesday morning.
Mickelson has repeatedly stressed that he regrets the recent controversial comments that led to his decision to take some time away from golf, 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 so sorry for this and sorry for the hurt this has caused so many people.”
Mickelson is part of a group of 48 players from the new LIV Golf Series who will hold their first event on Thursday at the Centurion Club, near London. Also participating were Kevin Na and Dustin Johnson, who were among the many golfers who announced last week that they were relinquishing their membership on the PGA Tour.
Sources previously told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told players’ agents at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio last week that players should choose what works for them. They couldn’t play both. Monahan threatened players who participated in the competition in London without permission with disciplinary action, including fines, suspensions and/or bans.
Mickelson answered reporters’ questions for nearly 30 minutes, but repeatedly refused to divulge comments he made to reporter Alan Shipnock, published in February, in which he said the owners of the LIV golf chain were “scary sons of whores to handle.”
The LIV Golf Series is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Salman was accused of committing several human rights violations, including the murder of a journalist from Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Michelson defended “I have zero tolerance for human rights abuses.” “Nobody here does that, anywhere in the world. I know for sure what happened with Jamal Khashoggi, and I think it’s horrific. I’ve also seen good golf throughout history, and I think the LIV Series of golf would do a lot of good for golf too. I’m excited.” For this opportunity, and for this I am here.”
Mickelson chose his words carefully throughout the press conference, stopping a few times as he seemed to think about how to bring up a topic before he even opened his mouth. He cracked a few jokes and sipped his personal brand of therapeutic coffee from a cup bearing his personal logo, but he looked mostly grim as he thought about his reactions.
He said that during his four months off golf, he traveled with his family, spent time in therapy and watched golf on TV.
“I got a four-month break from the game that I haven’t had in over three decades,” Mickelson said. “I have had the opportunity to spend time with my wife, Amy, travel to parts of the world, hang out at our place in Montana skiing and hiking in Sedona. It has given me time to pursue some work and therapy in the areas where there are gaps in my life. It has given me Time to think about what I want to do in the future and what is best for me and the people I care about.”
Mickelson confirmed that he has tried to address some of his behaviors – notably his problem with excessive gambling – which he says are negatively affecting his personal life.
“I’ve been dealing with it for many years,” Mickelson said. “My family and I have been financially safe… I can’t even remember how long. But he sure would have been threatened if I hadn’t touched upon this problem. And I did.”
Mickelson said he has not quit as a member of the PGA Tour and has no plans to do so, but he’s not sure what his future in the game might be.
“I’ve won a lot on the PGA Tour, and received a lot. I’ve worked hard to contribute and add value to the ring during my stay. I’ve worked hard to get a lifetime exemption, 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 don’t know what will happen. But I have earned it, and I have no intention of giving it up.”
Although he previously suggested he was using the LIV Golf Series as a “leverage” to push some changes on the PGA Tour, Mickelson declined to specify which changes still mattered to him.
“I have a lot of strong opinions about things that should and could be much better. One of the mistakes I made was expressing them in public. So I will endeavor to keep these conversations behind closed doors in the future. I think this is the way to get the most out of it.”
Mickelson said he plans to play the US Open next week at the Country Club in Brooklyn, Massachusetts, and feels better about his game than he has in months.
He said he thought – based on his conversations with the organizers – he would be welcome at the Masters or PGA Championship. But he didn’t feel his game was good enough to compete.
“Every day at the Masters, I skated in the morning and watched the tournament afterwards. I loved watching it. I thought Scotty Scheffler did an amazing performance. I found myself missing the Masters, but I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t play. I didn’t touch a stick. I didn’t I can compete. But I will always love this tournament, and if I am not there I will always miss it, but I did not want to be there.”
He said he felt the same way about the Southern Hills PGA Championship. Mickelson was the first major championship champion in modern history to withdraw from his title defense by choice, rather than due to injury.
“He made it clear to me in long conversations that I could play if I 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 really receiving $200 million from LIV Golf Series for his participation.
“I think contractual agreements should be private. It doesn’t look like it, but it should be.”