Phil Mickelson apologized Tuesday for comments about the Saudis and a proposed super league, damaging words he claims were off the record and not meant to be shared publicly.
“It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words,” he said.
The same time as Mickelson’s statement, KPMG became the first of his corporate sponsors to announce an immediate end to their partnership, a decision KPMG said was mutual.
“We wish him the best,” KPMG said in a statement.
Mickelson said of his comments to author and golf writer Alan Shipnuck, “I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”
In explosive remarks, Mickelson told Shipnuck the Saudis behind a proposed breakaway rival league were “scary mother (expletive)s to get involved with.”
He also told Shipnuck, who is writing a biography on Mickelson due out in May, that it was worth getting in bed with the Saudis, despite their history of human rights abuses, if it meant a chance to change the PGA Tour.
“We know they killed (Washington Post columnist Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay,” he said. “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.”
The interview took place last November.
Mickelson said he has always put the interests of golf first, “although it doesn’t look this way now given my recent comments.”
“There is the problem of off record comments being shared out of context and without my consent,” he said. “But the bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions.”
Shipnuck wrote on The Fire Pit Collective, where he published Mickelson’s comments last week, that “not once did he say our conversation was off-the-record or on background or just between us or anything remotely like that. He simply opened a vein.”
Shipnuck, who previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, tweeted Tuesday that Mickelson’s claims he spoke off the record were “completely false.”
Mickelson also apologized to LIV Golf Investments, the group run by Greg Norman and financed mainly by the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
But he made no mention of the PGA Tour or its commissioner Jay Monahan, which he referred to as a “dictatorship” in the Shipnuck interview. Mickelson also said he and three top players had paid attorneys to write the operating agreement of a rival league.
Mickelson’s comments would appear to fall under the tour policy of public remarks that unreasonably attack or disparage groups such as the tour.
Mickelson, who last year became the oldest major champion in history when he won the PGA Championship at age 50, said he has felt pressure and stress affecting him at a deeper level over the last 10 years and he needs time away.
But he did not say if he would be taking a break from golf. He has not played since the Saudi International on Feb. 6. He is not playing this week. His statement concluded, “I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”
Mickelson said he would not want to compromise his corporate partners and he has given them the option of pausing or ending their relationships with him.
At the heart of his statement was his claim that he has acted in the best interest of golf, the players, sponsors and the fans, “although it doesn’t look this way now given my recent comments.”
He also said he needs to be accountable “despite my belief that some changes have already been made within the overall discourse.”
The PGA Tour has made changes to reward top players amid the threat of the possible Saudi league, launching a “Player Impact Program” that compensates stars for popularity and social-media impressions. Mickelson claimed he won the PIP in its first year.