BROOKLINE, Mass. — Phil Mickelson stood behind a temporary background wall in a small outdoor interview tent for this week’s U.S. Open two minutes before his scheduled 1 p.m. pre-tournament press conference Monday conferring with a USGA official, who asked him if he wanted the interview cut off at a certain point.
“No,” Mickelson said to the official. “We can go as long we need to. I understand (reporters) have a lot of questions.”
And so began the second grilling of the 51-year-old Mickelson in six days by reporters seeking answers to why he’s opted to join the Greg Norman-fronted Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, a decision that has led to his suspension from the PGA Tour along with 16 other players who played in the tour’s inaugural event last week.
Last Wednesday, in advance of the LIV tour’s London event, Mickelson emerged from his four-month self-exile and was peppered with politically charged questions about his alliance with the Saudis for a reported $200 million and where the money is coming from.
On Monday, a few miles west of downtown Boston in advance of this week’s U.S. Open, Mickelson faced a familiar scene, and it looked as visibly uncomfortable for him as the session last week outside of London.
Mickelson began with an opening statement, saying, “It’s been four months … it’s been a necessary time and an opportunity for me to step away a little bit and put a little bit of thought and reflection into going forward and how to best prioritize things. It’s given me an opportunity to spend time with (his wife) Amy, to spend time with loved ones, and continue some of the work therapy-wise on some of the deficiencies that I have certainly as well as focus on best path forward. It’s been a positive time in that regard.
“I know that many of you have strong — well, many people — have strong opinions, emotions about my choice to go forward with LIV Golf. I understand, and I respect that.”
One of the pressing topics Mickelson was asked about was the letter he and the other players involved with LIV Golf received from the 9/11 families denouncing their decisions to align with the Saudis since 15 of the 19 hijackers were from that country.
“I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends on 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them,” Mickelson said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them.”
Mickelson was asked if he’s concerned about his legacy being damaged because of his move to the LIV tour.
“I’ve been a part of the PGA TOUR now for 30-plus years, and have enjoyed my time,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunities it’s provided. I’ve enjoyed the lifestyle it’s provided. I’ve enjoyed the fact that the game of golf through the PGA Tour has been able to give me and my family so much. I’m appreciative of that fact.
“During that time, I’ve worked really hard behind the scenes as well as to try to contribute as a way of showing my appreciation, and I’ve done the best I can to give back to it as well. So … I feel good about the efforts I put in to try to give back to the game of golf as well as the Tour, and I’m excited about the opportunity that LIV Golf presents for me and the game of golf going forward.
“I’ve done all I can to help contribute to the game, contribute to the PGA TOUR during my time with them, and that’s all I can do.”
Asked if he’s concerned that his huge popularity among fans has been damaged and what his reaction will be if his fans turned their backs to him, Mickelson said, “In regards to if fans would leave or whatnot, I respect and I understand their opinions, and I understand that they have strong feelings and strong emotions regarding this choice, and I certainly respect them (and) respect that.”
Mickelson made it clear his preference is not to be estranged from the PGA Tour, that he hopes one day to continue playing PGA Tour events as well as LIV Golf events.
“I’ve worked hard to earn a lifetime membership. I’ve worked hard to give back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf throughout my 30-plus years of professional golf, and I’ve earned that lifetime membership, so I believe that it should be my choice,” Mickelson said. “It’s pretty public that I’m suspended along with a bunch of other players, so it would be only speculative going forward. I am going to play the LIV events, I am going to play the British Open (next month), but anything other than that would be pure speculation. I don’t know how this is all going to play out.
“My preference is to be able to choose which path I would like, one or the other or both. I gave as much back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf that I could throughout my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I’ve earned a lifetime membership. I intend to keep that and then choose going forward which events to play and not.”
Mickelson was asked what appeals to him about the LIV Golf series.
“There’s an obvious incredible financial commitment, but more than that — for all the players involved and everyone involved — there are other factors (like) with fewer tournaments, it allows me to have more balance in my life,” he said. “It allows me to do things that are off the golf course I’ve always wanted to do. I find that as I prioritize those that are important to me, people that are important to me going forward, this allows me to have more time with them, be more present, and to share more life experiences outside of golf.
“I believe there’s a lot of things about LIV Golf that are transformative,” Mickelson went on. “Two specifically are a unique different format from a format that’s been the same for half a century or more, and I believe moving tournaments throughout the world and bringing that type of championship golf to different parts of the world is going to have a very positive effect globally on the sport.”
Asked how he feels about the “battering” he’s been taking since he joined LIV Golf, Mickelson said, “I respect that everyone has their opinion, and this is bringing out a lot of strong emotions for and against with a lot of people, and I respect the opinions that everyone has.”
Mickelson did not leave before being asked about his new appearance, with a scruffy facial hair look that we’ve never seen in public.
“Amy liked it, so as long as she likes it, it’s here,” he said. “When she says it’s gone, it’s gone.”
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