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Phil Mickelson says he needs 'time away' from pro golf after controversial comments

The six-time major winner has lost sponsors after comments relating to Saudi Arabia's involvement in a proposed golf league that would rival the PGA.
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Phil Mickelson said he "desperately" needs "some time away" from professional golf after a backlash to comments he made about Saudi Arabia's involvement in a proposed golf league that would rival the PGA Tour.

The six-time major champion and reigning PGA Championship winner tweeted a lengthy apology on Tuesday for his blunt comments to golf journalist Alan Shipnuck, the author of an upcoming biography on Mickelson, about a new golf tour backed by Saudi Arabia.

Mickelson, 51, made the comments about why he was considering getting involved in the Saudi-backed Super Golf League in an excerpt of the biography shared on The Fire Pit Collective by Shipnuck.

“They’re scary motherf------ to get involved with,” Mickelson said about Saudi Arabia. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident 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. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”

Mickelson said in his statement on Tuesday that his remarks were "off the record comments being shared out of context" and without his consent. Shipnuck replied by tweeting that Mickelson saying the comments were off the record was "completely false."

The golfer also apologized for his comments.

"I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions," he wrote. "It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”

Shipnuck tweeted that Mickelson "made himself both the victim and hero of his own press release."

"I wasn’t supposed to print his on-the-record comments yet Phil says, 'I still chose to put myself at the forefront of this to inspire change, taking the hits publicly to do the work behind the scenes.' Ohh-kay," Shipnuck added.

While regretting his comments about Saudi Arabia, Mickelson also showed support for LIV Investments, the Saudi-funded golf investment group led by golf legend Greg Norman that is working to create the rival golf league.

"My experience with LIV Golf Investments has been very positive," he wrote. "I apologize for anything I said that was taken out of context."

Mickelson, who has nearly $100 million in career earnings, also appeared to double down on criticism of the PGA.

"Golf desperately needs change, and real change is always preceded by disruption," he wrote. "I have always known that criticism would come with exploring anything new. I still chose to put myself at the forefront of this to inspire change, taking the hits publicly to do the work behind the scenes."

His comments have already cost him longtime sponsor KPMG, a professional services firm that said it "mutually agreed to end our sponsorship effective immediately."

Other top players also distanced themselves from Mickelson's comments.

“I don’t want to kick someone while he’s he’s down obviously, but I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant," four-time major champion Rory McIlroy said at a press conference on Sunday after the PGA Tour's Genesis Invitational tournament in California.

McIlroy also called the proposed Saudi-backed tour "dead in the water" after he and other top players like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau reiterated their commitment to the PGA Tour.

Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee called Mickelson's statement "damage control" in a Golf Channel interview.

“The statement was six paragraphs,” Chamblee said. "The first paragraph was about him pretending to be a victim. The second paragraph was about him pretending to be an activist. The third and fourth paragraphs were spin, damage control about him getting paid either now or certainly in the future when you consider he wrote the Saudi's operating agreement for this tour."