SAN DIEGO – Six-time major winner Phil Mickelson will tee off this week in the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series tournament in London, a move considered controversial in some golf circles after four months away from the game.
Mickelson, the 51-year-old San Diego native, has been flirting with the tour for months, but he’s been in hot water since February for a series of eyebrow-raising comments made to author Alan Shipnuck, who is writing a biography on him. He hasn’t played professionally since January in San Diego’s Farmers Insurance Open, missing both the Masters — which he’s won three times — and the PGA Championship.
In a statement Monday, Mickelson apologized to those he’d hurt with his comments, but noted that he’s “embracing the work ahead.”
“I am ready to come back to play the game I love but after 32 years this new path is a fresh start, one that is exciting for me at this stage of my career and is clearly transformative, not just for myself, but ideally for the game,” he said in a statement on Twitter. “I also love the progressive format and think it will be exciting for fans.”
He reportedly told Shipnuck that the Saudis were “scary motherf—–s to get involved with,” pointing to the slaying of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and their poor record on human rights. Even so, he called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
Mickelson also criticized the PGA Tour to Golf Digest, saying its greed “really opened the door for opportunities elsewhere.”
The effort to condemn Mickelson was swift. Several of his major sponsors dropped him, according to Golf Monthly, and he faced criticism from some on the tour, including Tiger Woods.
“Phil has said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the Tour and committed to the legacy of the Tour have pushed back against, and he’s taken some personal time, and we all understand that,” Woods told USA Today this year.
Mickelson now joins up with the LIV tour, headed by golf legend Greg Norman, and is among a crop of the sport’s notables in the 48-player field competing such as Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
In a statement released by LIV Golf, Norman called Mickelson “unequivocally one of the greatest golfers of this generation.”
“His contributions to the sport and connection to fans around the globe cannot be overstated and we are grateful to have him,” Norman said. “He strengthens an exciting field for London where we’re proud to launch a new era for golf.”
It’s not yet clear what it means for Mickelson’s future in the PGA Tour, however. Sports Illustrated reported that he and others sought and were declined permission by the PGA Tour to play in the LIV events and potentially could face fines and have their membership denied in the future.
As for Mickelson, he said he’s “thrilled” to start his time with LIV Golf and that he also plans to play in majors.
“I fully realize and respect some may disagree with this decision and have strong opinions and I empathize with that,” his statement reads. “I have a renewed spirit and excitement for the game. I am incredibly grateful for the support of my fans, partners, friends, and peers and I hope in time, those sentiments, relationships, and support continue.”
Coverage of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series tournament starts at 9 a.m. EST/6 a.m. PST Thursday and is airing live on LIVGolf.com, Facebook and YouTube.