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In first LIV presser, Phil Mickelson declines to discuss 'PGA Tour issues'

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Phil Mickelson declined to say Wednesday whether he has been suspended or banned by the PGA Tour and emphasized that he does not condone human-rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking at his introductory news conference at the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event outside London, Mickelson said he didn’t want to discuss any PGA Tour-related issues and that he was sorry for his comments earlier this year that led him to take an extended break from the game.

“I’ve said and done a lot of things that I regret,” Mickelson told reporters at the Centurion Club in his first public comments since February. “I’m sorry for that and sorry for the hurt it caused a lot of people.”

It was Mickelson’s first public appearance since his inflammatory remarks to author Alan Shipnuck in February, when he disparaged the PGA Tour, called the Saudis “scary motherf---ers” and acknowledged that he was overlooking the country’s human-rights record because it was a unique opportunity to leverage the Tour.

The LIV Golf series, which kicks off Thursday with a 48-man, 54-hole event, is fronted by Greg Norman and financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been accused of several human-rights violations, including the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it?” Mickelson said in the Fire Pit Collective story, published Feb. 17. “Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

On numerous occasions Wednesday, Mickelson said he was sorry for this remarks.

“I don’t condone human-rights violations at all,” he 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 has not played a Tour event since the Farmers Insurance Open in late January. When asked Wednesday whether he has been suspended or banned by the Tour, he said: “I choose not to speak publicly on PGA Tour issues at this time.”

Despite being the defending champion at the PGA Championship, Mickelson chose not to play in either of the first two majors of the year because he wasn’t in a position to be competitive.

“I missed being there,” he said, “but I didn’t have a desire to be there.”

The USGA announced Tuesday that any of the players in the first LIV event will still be able to play in the U.S. Open, and Mickelson said that he planned to be at The Country Club as he continues his pursuit of the final leg of the career Grand Slam.

Unlike some of the other players who have joined the LIV Series, including Dustin Johnson, Mickelson said he does not intend to forfeit his membership on the PGA Tour. Mickelson is a lifetime member of the Tour, having won at least 20 events across 15-plus seasons. The Tour has not yet announced sanctions for players who are competing in the LIV event without a release, but commissioner Jay Monahan has previously threatened fines, suspensions or lifetime bans. Monahan told player agents last week at The Memorial that a player could not compete on both circuits.

Having earlier this year accused the Tour of “obnoxious greed,” Mickelson declined to say Wednesday what future changes he would like to see. He told Sports Illustrated earlier this week that he hasn’t had any recent conversations with Monahan.

“I have a lot of strong opinions on things that should and could be a lot better,” he 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.”  

At the press conference, Mickelson didn't appear to be wearing any logos other than his own. Several of his sponsors distanced themselves in the wake of his comments earlier this year.

Asked about the report that he received roughly $200 million to join the rival tour, Mickelson smiled.

“I feel that contract agreements should be private,” he said. “Doesn’t seem to be the case, but it should be.”