In a lengthy note shared on social media Tuesday, Phil Mickelson apologized for his “choice of words” in recently published comments and suggested he might take a break from competitive golf.
The 51-year-old superstar has been at the center of a storm since Thursday, when comments he gave to golf journalist Alan Shipnuck last fall were made public. In those remarks, Mickelson said he was willing to engage with a Saudi-backed attempt at launching a golf league that would rival the PGA Tour.
Mickelson did express misgivings about those he called the “scary motherf-----s” representing a regime with a “horrible record on human rights.” But his comments also included describing the venture as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates,” which immediately drew condemnation from fellow players and in other sectors. His bluntness about the Saudis and his arguably cynical reasons for aiding their venture seemed to backfire quickly, with other top players linked to the nascent league pledging loyalty to the PGA Tour.
Amid a general sense in the golf world that Mickelson had done major damage to his image and the chances for success of the Saudi venture, he stated: “I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”
Mickelson did not specify what may have been seen as offensive. He also praised LIV Golf Investments, a Saudi-backed entity headed by Hall of Famer Greg Norman that has been behind the creation of the new league.
“The specific people I have worked with are visionaries and have only been supportive,” Mickelson wrote. “More importantly they passionately love golf and share my drive to make the game better.” He added that golf “desperately needs change, and real change is always preceded by disruption.”
The six-time major champion — who basked in an outpouring of adulation last year when his victory at the PGA Championship made him the oldest man to win a major tournament — cast himself as a potential martyr for the cause of improving his sport.
“I have always known that criticism would come with exploring anything new,” he wrote. “I still chose to put myself at the forefront of this to inspire change, taking the hits publicly to do the work behind the scenes.”
Mickelson also asserted that his comments to Shipnuck, who is writing an unauthorized biography of the golfer, were “off [the] record” and “shared out of context.”
Shipnuck, a longtime writer for Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine who is now with the Fire Pit Collective, pushed back on that claim, tweeting, “The ‘off the record’ piece of this is completely false.”
“Not once in our texts or when we got on the phone did Mickelson request to go off-the-record and I never consented to it; if he had asked, I would have pushed back hard, as this was obviously material I wanted for the book,” Shipnuck subsequently wrote in a Q&A. “Mickelson simply called me up and opened a vein. To claim now that the comments were off-the-record is false and duplicitous.”
“My take is that he wanted his true feelings on record but, as always, was working both sides of the street,” Shipnuck added. “If he wound up signing with the SGL [short for the Super Golf League or the Saudi Golf League], at least the quotes would serve as a signal to golf fans that he knows the Saudis are bad actors and it’s strictly a business decision. If he remained in the fold with the PGA Tour, he would have made it clear he did so only after extracting many of the concessions he wanted, thus fulfilling the need … to feel like he had outsmarted everyone else.”
In his post, Mickelson also said he gave his sponsors and corporate partners “the option to pause or end the relationship as I understand it might be necessary given the current circumstances.” Shortly thereafter, KPMG U.S. issued a statement in which it said that it and Mickelson “have mutually agreed to end our sponsorship effective immediately.”
“We wish him the best,” added KPMG, which has sponsored Mickelson since 2008, during which its logo has become a familiar sight on his headwear. The accounting and professional services firm noted that it is still sponsoring other competitors on the PGA and LPGA circuits, as well as the Women’s PGA Championship.
Mickelson has not played on the PGA Tour since missing the cut last month at the Farmers Insurance Open; more recently, he competed at the Saudi International, which is part of the Asian Tour. It is not clear when he might play again or if he faces a suspension from the PGA Tour, which he did not mention in his apology.
According to Shipnuck’s account, Mickelson criticized the PGA Tour for always wanting “more and more” and having a need to “control everything.” He made similar claims publicly while at the Saudi International, where he blasted the tour for charging him large amounts to use footage of his own shots.
“That type of greed is, to me, beyond obnoxious,” Mickelson said last month.
“Although it doesn’t look this way now given my recent comments,” he wrote Tuesday, “my actions throughout this process have always been with the best interest of golf, my peers, sponsors, and fans.”