Out of public view for four months, Phil Mickelson returned to golf because of where he was playing and who was paying him.
Mickelson is the six-time main champion, the most popular golfer on this side of the Tiger Woods. And now a human rights group is referring to him as a “stooges” for being among the 48 players who have signed up for a rebel golf league backed by Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund.
“I do not condone human rights abuses,” Mickelson said hesitantly, choosing his words carefully at a trivial press conference.
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Mickelson, who last year made history as the oldest major champion in golf’s 161-year history, and Dustin Johnson, the top face of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, have been the biggest threat to the PGA Tour since its formation in 1969.
In addition to disrupting the royal and ancient game, it has forced Mickelson and others to weigh in on the value of taking more money than they earned in their careers against the state’s infamous record on human rights.
The cash offered by LIV Golf is irresistible, especially for players like 51-year-old Mickelson at the twilight of their careers. The signing bonus is reported to be as high as $ 175 million for Johnson, even higher for Mickelson.
The Washington Post quoted circuit overseer Greg Norman as saying that Woods had rejected a proposal described as “the top nine.”
Each event has a prize money of $ 34 million – over $ 27 million for the PGA Tour’s flagship event – winning banking $ 5.5 million and last place players $ 166,000. The first event of the circuit started on Friday (AEST) at Centurion Golf Club near London.
Players have to risk their future participation in majors, such as the Masters and Ryder Cups, which are faced worldwide, while ignoring the flow of funds from public investment funds and facing questions about receiving cash from Saudi Arabia. Outrage over the 2018 Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination and other human rights abuses. The state has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s death.
Mikelson, citing Khashoggi’s assassination at the state consulate in Istanbul, called the Saudis “terrible mothers” (criminals) in a report in February.
“I have done, said and done many things for which I am sorry, and I am sorry for that and it has hurt so many people,” he said. “I am aware of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, and I think it’s terrible. I’ve seen golf all over history. “
It is unclear how LIV golf can help Saudi Arabia improve beyond tarnishing its image, although there is little evidence of the country’s support for the series around Centurion Club in St. Albans.
“I understand that people have very strong opinions and they can’t agree with my decision,” Mickelson said as he expanded his apology, “and I can sympathize with that.”
Human rights activists see athletes as involved in what they call “sportswashing” – helping to improve a country’s image by staging events with renowned athletes.
Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK, said: “Saudi Arabia has become more and more repressive in recent years. “Human rights defenders and peaceful critics have been detained, tortured in prisons and the death penalty has shocked the world. Instead of acting as a steward of Saudi sports washing, we want to see golfers talk about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia at LIV Golf Invitational. “
The 16 golfers – co-host of the press conference and shepherd by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer – have faced a number of questions about the competition themselves, facing the media outside London. The 54-hole tournament has no cuts and no shotgun start, which means everyone starts in a different hole at the same time. This has not happened in any other tournament in the world.
The name of the series is LIV – which is spread with “Deva” – the name is taken from Roman numerals for 54.
Former top plate Lee Westwood had no hesitation in accepting a cash incentive to join the series.
“This is my 29th season,” said the 49-year-old Englishman. “If the salary increases, at my age, I have to be stupid not to take it, or of course look at it well and then not take it.”
It was also picked up by 46-year-old compatriot Ian Poulter, who stands to make rapid improvements to the $ 38 million he earned in the form of career rewards.
“It’s a huge amount of money,” Poulter said of LIV, “but it’s a great platform to build a golf game and return at the same time.”
Only one of the eight events took place in Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah in October. Five tournaments are scheduled for the United States, starting July 1-3 near Portland, Oregon. The course is owned by two former presidents, Donald Trump. This poses a direct challenge to the PGA Tour as its regulations do not allow for releases for tournaments held in North America.
Mickelson has been barred from leaving the PGA Tour, in contrast to two-time main champion Dustin Johnson, who has resigned his membership.
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion who drowned in the Ryder Cup-winning putt the same year, is aware of the potential disciplinary consequences of competing in the LIV circuit without severing ties with the PGA.
“Why, as a player, do I want to be involved in some kind of legal situation with one of the best tours in the world?” McDowell says.
The PGA Tour says a member who plays in the LIV series will face disciplinary action because it did not release. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
Players joining LIV hope that the PGA Tour, along with European tours, will allow players to compete wherever they wish, and LIV becomes just another circuit that counts for ranking points among the majors.
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