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 wins on the PGA Tour, a 30-year pro career.
But when it resumes at the LIV Golf Invitational Series event outside of London this week, things will be significantly different.
Mickelson has spent most of the past four months underground due to the fallout associated with the formation of this new venture. As of Monday, he had made no public statements, played no golf tournaments and missed two major championships, including last month’s PGA Championship, where he was the defending champion.
Now he’s back.
Commissioner Greg Norman and LIV Golf announced that Mickelson will play the inaugural event at the Centurion Club, the $25 million, 54-hole, 48-player tournament.
Mickelson, 51, gave his first interview with SI.com/Morning Read on Monday before departing for England.
During the interview he expressed regret at the way certain things had been handled, admitted that the past four months had given him time to reflect, that he plans to compete in all eight events of the LIV Golf series, and that he still expects to be able to compete in the major championships. And Mickelson said he would not lose his membership on the PGA Tour.
The league is highly controversial, not only because it is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, but also because of the potential threat it poses to the PGA Tour. Mickelson and other tour members were not given clearance to play by Commissioner Jay Monahan. Mickelson made his first public comments in a statement Monday before conducting the interview.
Mickelson planned to be at the pairing party on Tuesday and play in the Pro-Am tournament on Wednesday.
SI.com/Tomorrow Read: Why did you ultimately decide to do this?
Phil Mickelson: “I think the main reason for that is that thinking about LIV Golf made me excited and energetic to play, work hard and compete again. I think after doing this for 30 years I’m looking forward to something new and this different format. And at this point in my life, which is just as important, Amy and I have a certain balance in my life. That motivates me to work hard and compete. But it also gives me time and opportunity to find the balance in my life that I’m looking forward to with (wife) Amy and that I’ve always wanted to have. I look forward to the opportunities both on and off the golf course.”
SI/MR: What, if anything, would you have liked to have done differently?
Michaelson: “Certainly there are 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 that you lost? Is there a way back with these companies?
Michaelson: “I’ve had some really good conversations with my sponsors because they’re not only my sponsors, they’re my friends. I am very grateful for the support they have shown me during this time. However, I think the answer will emerge in due course. I don’t think these answers are available now. It will play out over time.”
SI/MR: The Saudi involvement through the Public Investment Fund and the support of LIV Golf is a big theme for the series. How do you classify this relationship and how do you go on with it?
Michaelson: “I certainly do not condone human rights violations. And addressing what happened to Jamal Khashoggi is awful. But I’ve seen the good things the game of golf has done throughout history. And I firmly believe that LIV can also be good for the game of golf.”
SI/MR: What do you expect from your status on the PGA Tour in the future?
Michaelson: “I’m definitely grateful for the 30+ years that I’ve spent on the PGA Tour. The many memories and experiences I have shared. And I would like to remember that I contributed to the PGA Tour during that time. And I’ve earned a lifetime membership (minimum 20 wins and 15 years on the PGA Tour). I am confident that this will remain the case. I also think it’s important that every player has the right to play wherever they want, in addition to being able to keep my lifetime membership.”
SI/MR: Have you spoken to (PGA Tour Commissioner) Jay Monahan?
Mickelson: “We had no contact. And any feelings I have about playing the Tour or feelings about the Tour in general, I have to keep behind closed doors. That was certainly a mistake I made.”
SI/MR: Have you spoken to players, especially Tiger Woods?
Michaelson: “Not specifically tigers. I played golf with some of my colleagues. And I’ve talked to others. And I’m really grateful for the support they’ve shown. I don’t feel comfortable saying (who he was talking to).”
SI/MR: Have you had discussions with the organizations that run the major championships and have you been assured that you can participate in them?
Michaelson: “I’ve had a lot of conversations with the organizations that run the majors. And I want to keep these conversations private. But I’m looking forward to playing the US Open and I will be there. I assume that I can play.”
SI/MR: Did you cancel your PGA Tour membership to avoid suspension?
Michaelson: “I have not canceled my membership. I worked really hard to earn this lifetime membership. And I’m confident that I can play wherever I want, wherever it’s the PGA Tour, LIV or wherever I want.”
SI/MR: Did anything stop you from playing the Masters or the PGA Championship? If no, why didn’t you play?
Michaelson: “I had great conversations with all the governing bodies. I was under the understanding that I was able to play. But I really needed a break. It was really good for me to be able to spend that time with Amy and be able to step back and think for a little bit. I’ve been doing this for so long. Easy to get into 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 just focused on golf as much.”
SI/MR: Have you looked at both and if so, was it difficult?
Michaelson: “I watched her. I like to watch golf and found it exciting. But I didn’t really want to be there. I wasn’t able to be there and compete.”
SI/MR: You’ve been on the PGA Tour for more than 30 years with a record that ranks among the best in the history of the game. Are you worried about your inheritance at all?
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Michaelson: “I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. I had so many great memories of playing golf. And so much appreciation and gratitude that the game of golf has brought me. But I haven’t really thought about that.”
SI/MR: Given the amount of money on offer, and certainly what we know about the wallets, there is an indication that you are doing this because of financial difficulties. can you address that
Michaelson: “My gambling has reached a point where it’s reckless and embarrassing. I had to address it. And I’ve been dealing with it for a number of years. And for hundreds of therapy sessions. I feel good where I am. My family and I are and have been financially secure for some time.
“Gambling has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. But about a decade ago, I’d say it got reckless. It’s embarrassing. I don’t like that people know. In fact, I’ve been dealing with this for a while. Amy was very supportive of me and the process. After many years, we are in a place where I feel good, where that is. It is not a threat to me or my financial security. It was just a series of bad decisions.”
SI/MR: What about gambling on the pitch in practice rounds, which you always used as preparation?
Michaelson: “There is competition on the golf course. But it’s the anxiety, the other things that come with gaming outside of class and addiction outside of class that I really needed to address.”
SI/MR: How have the last four months been?
Michaelson: “It was a great opportunity for me to spend time with Amy and my loved ones that I never really had in my life. I’ve been able to be a lot more present and engaged when I’m with the people I love. I feel much healthier and more balanced. I spent a lot of time in therapy and dealing with my problems. But I came away with a balance in my life and a renewed excitement and energy to play golf again.”
SI/MR: Given all the absence, how do you expect your performance?
Mikelson: “I haven’t touched a racket in a few months. When I came back I started playing really well. And I found myself much calmer on the golf course. Shoot some good results. I’m working with (swing coach) Andrew (Getson) and looking forward to playing. But I’m not sure how I’m going to play since I haven’t played for a few months. But I’m optimistic.”
More LIV golf coverage on Morning Read
– LIV Golf announce broadcast team
– Greg Norman calls Jack Nicklaus a “hypocrite”
– Kevin Na retires from the PGA Tour to play LIV golf
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