Phil Mickelson is one of golf’s greatest champions, a player with a resume that ranks among the best of all time. Six majors, 45 PGA Tour victories, a pro career that spans 30 years.
But when it resumes this week at the LIV Golf Invitational Series event outside of London, things will be considerably different.
Mickelson has spent the better part of the past four months underground due to the fallout associated with the start-up of this new venture. Until Monday, he had issued no public statements, played no golf tournaments and missed two major championships, including the PGA Championship last month where he was the defending champion.
Now he is back.
Commissioner Greg Norman and LIV Golf announced that Mickelson would be playing the inaugural event at Centurion Club, the 54-hole, 48-player tournament that will have a $25 million purse.
Mickelson, 51, gave his first interview on Monday, speaking to SI.com/Morning Read via phone prior to departing to England.
During the interview, he expressed regret about the way certain things were handled, acknowledged the last four months have given him time to reflect, that he plans to play all eight LIV Golf series events and that he still expects to be able to compete in the major championships. And Mickelson said he would not be forfeiting his PGA Tour membership.
The league is highly controversial, not only because it is being backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, but due to the threat it potentially poses to the PGA Tour. Mickelson, and other Tour members, have not been granted authorization by commissioner Jay Monahan to play. Mickelson offered his first public comments in a statement Monday before doing the interview.
Mickelson planned to be at the pairings party Tuesday and play in the tournament pro-am Wednesday.
SI.com/Morning Read: Why, ultimately, did you decide to do this?
Phil Mickelson: “I think that the biggest reason is when I would think about LIV Golf I found myself excited and energized to play and work hard and compete again. I think after doing this for 30 years, I’m excited about something new and this different format. And at this point in my life, just as importantly, it gives some balance in my life for Amy and I. This motivates me to work hard and compete. But it also gives me time and opportunity to have the balance in my life that I’m looking forward to do doing with (wife) Amy and that I’ve always wanted to do. I’m excited for the opportunities both on the golf course and off.’’
SI/MR: What, if anything, do you wish you had done differently?
Mickelson: “Certainly there’s a lot of things I regret. I made a lot of mistakes. I hurt a lot of people and I’m really sorry.’’
SI/MR: What about the sponsorships you’ve lost? Is there any way back with those companies?
Mickelson: “I’ve had some really good conversations with my sponsors because they’re not just my sponsors but my friends, too. I’m very appreciative of the support they’ve shown me throughout this time. I think that the answer, though, will play itself out in due time. I don’t think those answers are available right now. It will play out in time.’’
SI/MR: The Saudi involvement through the Public Investment Fund and backing of LIV Golf is a big issue for the series. How do you square that relationship and going forward with this?
Mickelson: “I certainly do not condone human rights violations. And addressing what happened to Jamal Khashoggi is awful. But I have seen the good that game of golf has done throughout history. And I really believe that LIV can be good for the game of golf as well.’’
SI/MR: What do you expect your status with the PGA Tour to be going forward?
Mickelson: “I’m certainly grateful for the 30-plus years that I’ve had with the PGA Tour. The many memories and experiences that I’ve shared. And I’d like to think that I contributed to the PGA Tour over that time. And I have earned a lifetime membership (a minimum of 20 victories and 15 years on the PGA Tour). I’m hopeful that stays the same. I also feel it’s important for any player to have the right to play wherever they want, in addition to me being able to keep my lifetime membership.’’
SI/MR: Have you spoken with (PGA Tour commissioner) Jay Monahan?
Mickelson: “We haven’t had contact. And any feelings that I have in regard to playing the Tour or feelings in regard to the Tour in general I need to keep behind closed doors. That was certainly a mistake that I’ve made.’’
SI/MR: Have you spoken to any players and, specifically, Tiger Woods?
Mickelson: “Not Tiger specifically. I have played golf with some of my peers. And I’ve talked with others. And I’m really appreciative of the support they’ve shown. I don’t feel comfortable saying (who he has spoken to).”
SI/MR: Have you had any discussions with the organizations that run the major championships and have you been given assurances that you will be allowed to compete in them?
Mickelson: “I’ve had many conversations with the organizations that run the majors. And I do want to keep those conversations private. But I am looking forward to playing the U.S. Open and I’ll be there. I’m under the understanding that I’m able to play.’’
SI/MR: Have you resigned your PGA Tour membership in order to avoid a suspension?
Mickelson: “I have not resigned my membership. I worked really hard to earn that lifetime membership. And I’m hopeful that I’ll have the ability to play wherever I want, where it’s the PGA Tour, LIV or wherever else I want.’’
SI/MR: Did anything preclude you from playing in the Masters or the PGA Championship? If not, why did you not play?
Mickelson: “I had great conversations with all of the governing bodies. I was under the understanding that I was able to play. But I really needed some time away. This has been really good for me to have this time with Amy and for me to be able to step away and reflect a little bit. I’ve been doing this so long. Easy to get in a bit of a rut. It’s given me a chance to spend time with Amy and create a better balance in my life, so it’s not so focused on just golf.’’
SI/MR: Did you watch either of them and if so, was it difficult?
Mickelson: “I did watch them. I enjoy watching golf and found it to be exciting. But I didn’t necessarily want to be there. I wasn’t in a position to be there and be able to compete.’’
SI/MR: You’ve had a 30-plus-year run with the PGA Tour with a record that is one of the best in the game’s history. Are you concerned at all about your legacy?
Mickelson: “I haven’t put a ton of time into thinking about that. I’ve had so many great memories in the game of golf. And so much appreciation and gratitude that the game of golf has provided me. But I haven’t really thought about that too much.’’
SI/MR: Given the amount of money being offered and certainly what we know the purses are to be, there is a suggestion that you are doing this due to financial difficulties. Can you address that?
Mickelson: “My gambling got to a point of being reckless and embarrassing. I had to address it. And I’ve been addressing it for a number of years. And for hundreds of hours of therapy. I feel good where I’m at there. My family and I are and have been financially secure for some time.
“Gambling has been part of my life ever since I can remember. But about a decade ago is when I would say it became reckless. It’s embarrassing. I don’t like that people know. The fact is I’ve been dealing with it for some time. Amy has been very supportive of it and with me and the process. We’re at place after many years where I feel comfortable with where that is. It isn’t a threat to me or my financial security. It was just a number of poor decisions.’’
SI/MR: What about gambling on the course in practice rounds, which you’ve always used as a way to prepare?
Mickelson: “On the golf course, it’s creating competition. But it’s the anxiety, the other things that come across with gambling off the course and addiction off the course that I really needed to address.’’
SI/MR: What have last four months been like?
Mickelson: “It’s been a tremendous opportunity for me to spend time with Amy and loved ones that I’ve never really had this opportunity to do in my life. I’ve been able to be much more present and engaged when I’m with the people I love. I feel much more health and at peace. I’ve spent a lot of time doing therapy and dealing with issues that I have. But I’ve come away with a balance in my life and a renewed excitement and energy to get back to playing golf.’’
SI/MR: Given all the time away, how do you expect to perform?
Mickelson: “I didn’t touch a club for a few months. When I came back, I started playing really well. And I found myself on the golf course much more calm. Shooting some good scores. I’m working with (swing coach) Andrew (Getson) and I’m excited about playing. But I’m uncertain how I will play given that I haven’t played in a few months. But I’m optimistic.’’