HEMEL HEMPSTEAD, England — Phil Mickelson, making his first public appearance since February, would neither confirm nor deny that he has been suspended or banned by the PGA Tour for joining the rival LIV Golf tour.
“I choose not to speak publicly on PGA Tour issues at this time,” Mickelson said Wednesday morning.
Mickelson emphasized several times that he is sorry for recent controversial comments that led to his decision to take time away from golf, including his decision not to defend his PGA Championship last month.
“I’ve said and done a lot of things that I regret,” Mickelson said. “I’m sorry for that and sorry for the hurt it caused a lot of people.”
Mickelson is part of a 48-man field for the upstart LIV Golf league that will hold its first event beginning Thursday at Centurion Club outside London. Also among the field are Kevin Na and Dustin Johnson, who were among several golfers to announce over the past week that they were resigning their PGA Tour memberships.
Sources previously told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told player agents at last week’s Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, that players had to choose whether they were going to play on the PGA Tour or in the LIV Golf series and that they couldn’t play in both. Monahan has threatened players who competed in London without releases with discipline, including fines, suspensions and/or bans.
Mickelson answered questions from reporters for nearly 30 minutes but declined several times to get specific about comments he made to journalist Alan Shipnuck that were published in February in which he stated that the owners of LIV Golf were “scary motherf—ers to get involved with.”
LIV Golf is supported by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Salman has been accused of numerous human rights violations, including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
“I don’t condone human rights violations at all,” Mickelson said. “Nobody here does, throughout the world. I’m certainly aware of what’s happened with Jamal Khashoggi, and I think it’s terrible. I’ve also 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. I’m excited about this opportunity, and that’s why I’m here.”
Mickelson chose his words carefully throughout the news conference, pausing several times as he appeared to weigh how to address a topic before opening his mouth. He cracked a few jokes and sipped his personal brand of therapeutic coffee from a tumbler bearing his personal logo, but mostly he seemed somber as he mulled his answers.
He said during his four months away from golf that he traveled with his family, spent time in therapy and watched golf on television.
“I’ve had a four-month break from the game that I’ve not had in over three decades,” Mickelson said. “I’ve had an opportunity to spend time with my wife, Amy, and spend time traveling to parts of the world, spend time at a place we have in Montana skiing and hike in Sedona. It’s given me a time to continue some of the work and therapy in areas where I’m deficient in my life. It’s given me time to reflect what I want to do going forward and what’s best for me and what’s best for the people I care about.”
Mickelson confirmed he has been trying to address some of the behavior — specifically his excessive gambling — that he felt was negatively affecting his personal life.
“I’ve been handling it for many years now,” Mickelson said. “Me and my family, we’ve been financially secure for — I can’t even remember for how long now. But it was certainly going to be threatened if I didn’t address this. And I did.”
Mickelson said he has not resigned as a PGA Tour member and has no plans to do so, but he is just not certain what his future with the PGA Tour might be.
“I’ve gained a lot from the PGA Tour, and I’ve received a lot,” Mickelson said. “I’ve worked really hard to contribute and add value to the tour during my time there. I worked really hard to earn a lifetime exemption, and I don’t want to give that up and I don’t feel like I should have to.
“I don’t know what that means for a future. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’ve earned that, and I don’t plan on just giving it up.”
Despite previously suggesting he was using LIV Golf as “leverage” to push through some changes on the PGA Tour, Mickelson declined to say what changes he was still interested in.
“I have a lot of strong opinions on things that should and could be a lot better,” 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. I think that’s the way to be the most efficient and get the most out of it.”
Mickelson said he plans to play in next week’s U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, and feels better about his game now than he has in months.
“I’ve had a four-month break from the game that I’ve not had in over three decades. I’ve had an opportunity to spend time with my wife, Amy, and spend time traveling to parts of the world, spend time at a place we have in Montana skiing and hike in Sedona. It’s given me a time to continue some of the work and therapy in areas where I’m deficient in my life. It’s given me time to reflect what I want to do going forward and what’s best for me and what’s best for the people I care about.”
Phil Mickelson, on his 2022 hiatus from golf
He said he felt — based on conversations with organizers — he would have been welcome at the Masters or PGA Championship. But he didn’t feel like his game was close to being sharp enough to compete.
“Every day of the Masters, I skied in the morning and I watched the tournament afterward,” Mickelson said. “I enjoyed watching it. I thought Scottie Scheffler put on an amazing performance there. I found myself missing the Masters but not wanting to be there. I had not played. I had not touched a club. I wasn’t in a position to be competitive. But I will always love that tournament, and if I’m not there, I’ll always miss it, but I didn’t have a desire to be there.”
He said he felt similarly about the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. Mickelson was the first major champion in modern history to opt not to defend his title by choice, not because of injury.
“It was made clear to me through extensive conversations that I was able to play if I wanted to,” Mickelson said. “I just chose not to.”
Near the end of the news conference, Mickelson couldn’t resist cracking a small smile when asked if he was really receiving $200 million from LIV Golf for his participation in the startup league.
“I feel that contract agreements should be private,” Mickelson said. “Doesn’t seem to be the case, but it should be.”