LIV’s Phil Mickelson glad to have picked ‘winning side’ in battle with PGA Tour | LIV Golf Series

Back in Saudi Arabia for the first time since his disparaging remarks about the source of LIV Golf’s funding, Phil Mickelson said on Thursday he was glad he was on the “winning side” and that he sees the PGA Tour trending downward.

“I think going forward you have to pick a side,” he said at a news conference for the LIV Golf Invitational-Jeddah, which starts on Friday. “You have to pick what side do you think is going to be successful. And I firmly believe that I’m on the winning side of how things are going to evolve and shape in the coming years for professional golf.

“We play against a lot of the best players in the world on LIV and there are a lot of the best players in the world on the PGA Tour. And … until both sides sit down and have a conversation and work something out, both sides are going to continue to change and evolve. And I see LIV Golf trending upwards, I see the PGA Tour trending downwards and I love the side that I’m on.”

In an interview with Alan Shipnuck, who published an unauthorized biography of Mickelson in May, the six-time major champion referred to the Saudis as “scary motherfuckers to get involved with.”

Mickelson was quoted by Shipnuck as saying: “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter 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.”

Mickelson issued a statement after the interview saying his comments were off the record and shared without context.

On Thursday he said: “I never did an interview with Alan Shipnuck. And I find that my experience with everybody associated with LIV Golf has been nothing but incredibly positive and I have the utmost respect for everybody that I’ve been involved with.”

Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau were among several major champions Saudi-funded LIV Golf signed to contracts reported to be in the $125m range.

LIV Golf currently has 12 of the top 50 players in the world ranking – British Open champion Cameron Smith at No 2 is the highest, while the majority of them are outside the top 25 because LIV Golf hasn’t received world ranking points since it began in June.

The PGA Tour still has a majority of the current stars – 19 of the world top 20 – and starts a new schedule in 2023 that will bring the best players together 15 times a year playing for $20m prize funds.

These are some of the changes Mickelson had wanted. The PGA Tour has suspended him and other members who signed with LIV Golf, which is the main plaintiff in an antitrust lawsuit scheduled for a January 2024 trial.

LIV Golf has 48-man fields with no cut over 54 holes playing for $25m each week. Dustin Johnson already has made over $30m, including an $18m bonus for clinching the individual points race.

This summer has made clear the big divide in golf, with the PGA Tour and European tour distancing themselves from those who has signed to play with LIV Golf.

The US Open and British Open had allowed LIV Golf players to compete if they were eligible, though both organizations spoke out against the rival league. The Royal & Ancient asked Norman not to take part in the 150th anniversary celebration at St Andrews in July.

Mickelson said golf is “very lucky” to have Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund invest in the sport. Along with enormous money paid to LIV Golf players and purses, it has invested $300m in the Asian Tour.

“Now the United States and the UK are not favorable to this,” Mickelson said. “But everywhere outside in the world, LIV Golf is loved. And eventually they come around and they will be accepting of it.”

Mickelson, 52, signed with LIV Golf in June, one year after he became the oldest major winner at the 2021 PGA Championship for his sixth major title.

In six appearances with LIV Golf, he has registered only one top 10 – a tie for eighth outside Chicago, seven shots behind Smith. He contends LIV Golf has reinvigorated him and made him excited to compete.

“I love the experience. I love the way they treat us. I love the way they involve us and listen to us in decisions,” he said. “I mean it’s so inclusive. … LIV Golf is leading. Whether it’s [wearing] shorts, whether it’s other aspects of professional golf that are going to change and evolve, those positions will be led by LIV.”

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