Back in Saudi Arabia for the first time since his disparaging comments about the source of LIV Golf’s funding, Phil Mickelson said on Thursday that he was happy to be on the “winning side” and sees the PGA Tour on a downward trend.
Mickelson had said a month ago that although the PGA Tour has had the best players in the world for the past 20 to 30 years, that would never be the case again.
He came out even stronger at a press conference for the LIV Golf Invitational-Jeddah, which begins Friday at Royal Greens in King Abdullah Economic City.
“I think in the future you have to choose a side. You have to choose which side you think it will work out on. And I firmly believe that I am on the winning side of how things will develop in the coming years and shape for professional golf,” said Mickelson.
“We play against many of the best players in the world on LIV and there are many of the best players in the world on the PGA TOUR. And… until both parties sit down and have a conversation and work something out, both sides will continue to change and evolve. And I see LIV Golf going up, I see the PGA Tour going down and I love the side I’m on.”
Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau were among several major champions to sign Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf on contracts reportedly in the $125 million range.
LIV Golf currently has 12 of the top 50 players in the world rankings – British Open champion Cameron Smith at number 2 is the highest, while the majority of them are outside the top 25 as LIV Golf has not received any points in the world rankings since it started in June.
The PGA Tour still has a majority of its current stars – 19 of the top 20 – and kicks off a new schedule in 2023 that will bring the best players together some 15 times a year to play for $20 million in prize money.
These are some of the changes Mickelson always wanted. The PGA Tour has suspended him and other members who signed with LIV Golf, the lead prosecutor in an antitrust case slated for trial in January 2024.
LIV Golf has 48-man uncut fields over 54 holes that play for $25 million weekly. Dustin Johnson has already earned more than $30 million, including an $18 million bonus for completing the individual points race.
Mickelson was seen as a chief recruiter for LIV Golf leader Greg Norman, and it was his comments in February that delayed LIV Golf’s inaugural year.
In an interview with Alan Shipnuck, who published an unauthorized biography of Mickelson in May, the six-time major champ referred to the Saudis as “scary mother (expletives) to get involved.”
“We know that they (Washington Post reporter Jamal) killed Khashoggi and have a horrendous human rights record. They execute people there because they are gay. Knowing all this, why should I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour works,” said Mickelson.
The interview was published two weeks after Mickelson played in Royal Greens’ Saudi International.
Mickelson released a statement after the interview saying his comments were off the record and shared without context.
On Thursday he said: “I have never done an interview with Alan Shipnuck. And I find that my experience with everyone involved with LIV Golf has been nothing but incredibly positive and I have the utmost respect for everyone I deal with. had.”
This summer has made clear the big divide in golf, with the PGA Tour and the European Tour not wanting to be part of someone who has signed to play at LIV Golf.
The US Open and British Open had allowed LIV Golf players to compete if they qualified, although both organizations ruled against the rival league. The Royal & Ancient asked Norman not to participate in the 150th anniversary celebrations in St Andrews in July.
Mickelson said golf is “very lucky” that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is investing in the sport. In addition to massive amounts of money paid to LIV Golf players and purses, it has invested $300 million in the Asian Tour.
“Now the United States and the UK are not favorable to this,” Mickelson said. “But LIV Golf is loved all over the world. And eventually they come along and they will accept it.”
Mickelson, 52, signed with LIV Golf in June, a year after becoming the oldest major winner of the 2021 PGA Championship for his sixth major title.
In six appearances with LIV Golf, he has registered just one top 10 — a tie for eighth outside of Chicago, seven shots behind Smith.
He claims that LIV Golf has revived him and made him excited to compete.
“I like the experience. I like the way they treat us. I like the way they involve us and listen to us in decisions,” he said. “I mean, it’s so inclusive. … LIV Golf is leading the way. Whether it’s (wearing) shorts, or other aspects of professional golf that are going to change and evolve, those positions will be spearheaded by LIV.”