Phil Mickelson apologizes for 'reckless' Saudi-backed golf league comments

Phil Mickelson on Tuesday apologized for comments he made about the PGA Tour and organizers of a proposed Saudi-financed breakaway league, saying he thought the statements made were off the record and not meant to be shared publicly.

"It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words," Mickelson said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Mickelson, who last year became the oldest major champion in history when he won the PGA Championship at age 50, received criticism for comments he previously made to author and golf writer Alan Shipnuck writing a biography on him that is due out in May

In the remarks, Mickelson told Shipnuck that the Saudis behind a proposed breakaway rival league were "scary mother (expletive)s to get involved with." He also told Shipnuck that it was worth getting in bed with the Saudis, despite their history of human rights abuses, if it meant a chance to change the PGA Tour.

"We know they killed (Washington Post columnist Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay," he said. "Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates."

The interview took place last November. Shipnuck posted a story based on the phone interview on "The Firepit Collective" website last week

Mickelson also expressed dissatisfaction with how the PGA Tour operates, referring to it as a "dictatorship" in the interview and saying he and three top players had paid attorneys to write the operating agreement of the rival league.

"The tour likes to pretend it’s a democracy, but it’s really a dictatorship," Mickelson said in the report. "They divide and conquer. The concerns of the top players are very different from the guys who make their own situation better, but the top guys don’t have a say."

Mickelson added that the PGA Tour has used "manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics" because players had no recourse. He said Commissioner Jay Monahan might seem to be a nice person, but without leverage, "he won’t do what’s right."

PIF Saudi International - Day Three

FILE - Phil Mickelson of The USA tees off the 14th hole during day three of the PIF Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on Feb. 5, 2022, in Al Murooj, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)

Justin Thomas, one of several highly ranked players who have said they are not interested in a Saudi-funded league, described Mickelson’s remarks last week as an "egotistical statement."

"He’s done a lot of great things for the PGA Tour. It’s a big reason it is where it is," Thomas said Friday from the Genesis Invitational. "But him and others that are very adamant about that, if they’re that passionate, go ahead. I don’t think anybody’s stopping them."

In his apology, Mickelson said he was "beyond disappointed" and would "make effort to self-reflect and learn from this." He said he has always put the interests of golf first, "although it doesn’t look this way now given my recent comments."

"There is the problem of off-record comments being shared out of context and without my consent," he said in the Feb. 22 statement. "But the bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions."

But Shipnuck, who previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, tweeted Tuesday that Mickelson’s claims he spoke off the record were "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 said in a statement. "Mickelson simply called me up and opened a vein. To claim now that the comments were off-the-record is false and duplicitous."

Mickelson also apologized to LIV Golf Investments, the group run by Greg Norman and financed mainly by the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But he made no mention of the PGA Tour or Monahan.

Mickelson, who last year became the oldest major champion in history when he won the PGA Championship at age 50, said he has felt pressure and stress affecting him at a deeper level over the last 10 years and he needs time away.

But he did not say if he would be taking a break from golf. He has not played since the Saudi International on Feb. 6. He is not playing this week. His statement concluded, "I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be."

Mickelson said he would not want to compromise his corporate partners and he has given them the option of pausing or ending their relationships with him. KPMG became the first to announce an immediate end to their partnership, a decision KPMG said was mutual.

"We wish him the best," KPMG said in a statement.

At the heart of Mickelson’s statement was his claim that he has acted in the best interest of golf, the players, sponsors and the fans. He also said he needs to be accountable "despite my belief that some changes have already been made within the overall discourse."

The PGA Tour has made changes to reward top players amid the threat of the possible Saudi league, launching a "Player Impact Program" that compensates stars for popularity and social-media impressions. Mickelson claimed he won the PIP in its first year.

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.