Sunday was not the best day for the nascent Saudi-backed golf league — or for Phil Mickelson, the most prominent player linked to it.
“I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down, obviously, but I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant,” McIlroy said of recently published remarks Mickelson made several months ago.
“It was just very surprising and disappointing. Sad,” McIlroy said Sunday after he tied for 10th at the Genesis Invitational. “I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”
In his comments, Mickelson described the Saudis as “scary motherf------” with a record of human rights abuses. The 51-year-old superstar said he was nevertheless willing to work with them on what has been widely referred to as the Super Golf League (SGL, which also could stand for Saudi Golf League) because it would provide him and others “leverage” in forcing more concessions from the PGA Tour.
Mickelson, who won his sixth major title at last year’s PGA Championship, hasn’t played on the PGA Tour this year since missing the cut last month at the Farmers Insurance Open. He did compete more recently at the Saudi International, which was staged at the same time as the PGA Tour’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Also skipping Pebble Beach to travel to the Middle East were Johnson and DeChambeau, and they were joined by other notable players such as Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey. Johnson and DeChambeau reportedly have been offered many millions to defect to the SGL, but on Sunday they both spurned the notion that they might leave the PGA Tour.
Johnson made the stronger statement, all the more so given that it was released by the Tour itself.
“Over the past several months, there has been a great deal of speculation about an alternative tour; much of which seems to have included me and my future in professional golf,” Johnson said in his statement. “I feel it is now time to put such speculation to rest. I am fully committed to the PGA Tour.”
DeChambeau could have given himself some wiggle room by stating that “as long as the best players in the world are playing the PGA Tour, so will I.” The 2020 U.S. Open winner, who withdrew from the Saudi International because of hand and hip injuries, added that he was “focused on getting myself healthy and competing again soon.”
Saying later Sunday that “no one really knew where Bryson stood,” McIlroy told reporters: “I was really glad to see DJ and Bryson put out those statements this week. We all want to play against the best players in the world, and they’re certainly two of the best players in the world, and it’s nice to know that they’re committed to playing here and committed to making this the best tour in the world.”
“Who’s left? Who’s left to go?” McIlroy wondered aloud. “I mean, there’s no one. … It’s dead in the water, in my opinion.”
The four-time major winner from Northern Ireland also noted that the SGL lacked the support of Tiger Woods, who in November declared, “I have allegiance to the PGA Tour.”
Lauding Woods, who has been out of action for a year after suffering major injuries in a car crash, as the “epicenter of the professional [golf] world,” McIlroy said, “Who knows when he’s going to play again, but if they don’t have his blessing, it’s got no chance.”
In addition to McIlroy, whose public opposition to the Saudi venture goes back at least two years, other top players such as Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas have said they have no interest in leaving the PGA Tour.
While at the Saudi International, Mickelson claimed (via Golf Digest) that “pretty much every player in the top 100 has been contacted at some point” about joining the SGL. He made clear that he was unhappy with the PGA Tour’s ownership and management of media rights to memorable shots and other moments he and fellow star players have authored in tournaments.
“For me personally, it’s not enough that they are sitting on hundreds of millions of digital moments,” Mickelson said then. “They also have access to my shots, access I do not have. They also charge companies to use shots I have hit. And when I did ‘The Match’ — there have been five of them — the Tour forced me to pay them $1 million each time. For my own media rights. That type of greed is, to me, beyond obnoxious.”
When those comments were shared online, Brooks Koepka — another elite golfer reported to have been courted heavily by the SGL — responded by commenting, “[Don’t know] if I’d be using the word greedy if I’m Phil.”