Phil Mickelson on Wednesday morning London time met with reporters for the first time since his self-imposed exile of nearly four months ahead of this week’s Saudi-backed LIV Golf inaugural tournament, and it was a highly-awkward, uncomfortable affair.
At the center of the grilling was the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government in 2018 and the perceived part Mickelson and the other players are taking in “sportswashing.’’
During the question-and-answer session, Mickelson, who according to one report was given $200 million to play in the LIV Golf series, referred to not condoning human rights violations several times and did his best to paint the LIV Golf series of tournaments as something that can be good for the sport.
Two bits of news that came out of the session was Mickelson declining to acknowledge whether or not he’s been serving a ban from the PGA Tour, saying after a long pause, “I … I choose not to speak publicly on PGA Tour issues at this time.’’
Mickelson, also asked whether he’ll play the U.S. Open next week, said, “I will play next week’s U.S. Open (and) I’m looking forward to it.’’
He began his press conference by apologizing.
“There are a lot of things that I regret and I am sorry for the hurt that it’s caused a lot of people,’’ a contrite Mickelson said, referring to his explosive comments that were published in February in which he was highly critical of the Saudis and the PGA Tour.
“I don’t condone human rights violations at all. Nobody here does … throughout the world. And I’m certainly aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi and I think it’s terrible.
“I’ve always seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history and I believe that LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game as well and I’m excited about this opportunity and that’s why I’m here.’’
This is where some intense grilling of Mickelson, the six-time major champion, began.
He was asked by a reporter if he was concerned about being seen as a “tool of sportswashing’’ and that he could be seen as a “Saudi stooge’’ and “tarnish’’ his legacy.
“I said earlier, I don’t condone human rights violations,’’ Mickelson said. “I don’t know how else I can be any more clear. Again, I love this game of golf, I’ve seen the good that it’s done and I see the opportunity for LIV Golf to do a lot of good for the world and I’m excited to be a part of this opportunity.’’
He was asked about his use of the word “leverage’’ when referring to using the Saudi series against the PGA Tour, and the fact that he’s now “representing the very people you were using as leverage.’’
“I’ve really enjoyed my time on the PGA Tour, I’ve had a lot of incredible experiences, some great memories, and I have a lot of strong opinions on what could and should be a lot better (with the Tour),’’ Mickelson said. “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.’’
He was asked, “What are you apologizing for _ for speaking the truth about the Saudis or are you sorry for the shameless hypocrisy of taking their money anyway?’’
“I understand that many people have very strong opinions and many disagree with my decision, and I can empathize with that,’’ Mickelson said. “But at this time, this is an opportunity that gives me a chance to have the most balance in my life going forward and I think this is going to do a lot of good for the game.’’
Asked if he felt the “good of the game’’ can “make up’’ for the killing of Khashoggi, Mickelson said, “Nobody here condones human right violatIons and nobody’s trying to make up for anything.’’
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