Phil Mickelson backs off Saudi golf comments, loses sponsor

Where Phil Mickelson’s golf career goes from here is uncertain, but he is taking a step back after being at the center of controversy surrounding the Saudi Golf League trying to lure PGA Tour players.

Mickelson, 51, issued a statement Tuesday on social media in which he apologized for explosive comments about Saudis he made to golf writer Alan Shipnuck, whose Mickelson biography comes out in May. Mickelson also claimed there were “off the record comments being shared out of context and without my consent,” which Shipnuck tweeted is “completely false.” The six-time major winner ended his statement saying he “desperately need[s] some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

Whether that includes a hiatus from golf is unclear.

KPMG ended its sponsorship deal with Mickelson on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, a decision the company described as mutual. Mickelson said in his statement he’s given his partners “the option to pause or end the relationship.” According to Forbes, Mickelson made $40 million from endorsements between May 2020 and May 2021.

Phil Mickelson is no longer associated with KPMG/
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Mickelson admitted to Shipnuck he was wary of doing business with Saudi Arabia but was willing to because of issues he has with the PGA Tour.

“They’re scary motherf—ers to get involved with,” he said in a piece by Shipnuck posted on The Fire Pit Collective. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”

On Tuesday, Mickelson described those comments as “reckless” and said he was “deeply sorry” for making them.

Many of the top players on the PGA Tour have rejected the Saudi league, and some, including Rory McIlroy and Billy Horschel, blasted Mickelson for his comments.

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Phil Mickelson playing at the PIF Saudi International in early February.
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“I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down, obviously, but I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant,” McIlroy told reporters Sunday at the Genesis Invitational.

Horschel told the Fairways of Life podcast Mickelson’s comments about the PGA Tour’s “obnoxious greed” were “idiotic,” and he believes Mickelson is “tarnishing his legacy a little bit.”

In a mailbag on The Fire Pit Collective, Shipnuck hit back at Mickelson’s “off the record” claim.

“Not once in our texts or when we got on the phone did Mickelson request to go off-the-record and I never consented to it; if he had asked, I would have pushed back hard, as this was obviously material I wanted for the book,” Shipnuck wrote. “Mickelson simply called me up and opened a vein. To claim now that the comments were off-the-record is false and duplicitous.”