BROOKLINE, Mass. — For a golfer who built a career and a reputation as a player who takes a lot of chances, Phil Mickelson played it as straight as a Ben Hogan 1-iron on Monday.
Speaking to an overflow crowd of reporters at the Country Club, the site of this week’s United States Open, Mickelson stayed on message throughout his 25-minute news conference, reiterating his commitment to the LIV Golf Invitational Series while also showing love for the PGA Tour, which last week suspended him and other tour players who had chosen to play in LIV’s inaugural event last week outside London. Twenty have committed to the series so far.
The United States Golf Association, which runs the U.S. Open, allowed Mickelson and any of the other suspended players to participate in this week’s event.
He acknowledged there were “strong emotions and opinions” among those who opposed his decision to join the LIV Golf series, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. “I respect that,” Mickelson said. “I’m grateful for all that the PGA Tour has given me, but I’m excited about this new opportunity as well.”
Mickelson was asked numerous times about the negative reactions from fans and other PGA Tour players about his decision. He repeated that he had the “utmost respect” for players on the tour and that the friendships he had forged over his professional career would remain intact.
“There are players on the tour that I look up to and respect,” he said. “I respect if they disagree. But at the same time, I feel like I made the right decision.”
The LIV series events are the richest tournaments in golf history — last week’s total purse was $25 million, with a $20 million pot for the individual event and $5 million more to split in the team competition. Charl Schwartzel, 37, finished first in both the individual and team competitions and took home $4.75 million. The last-place finisher at each event is guaranteed $120,000.
LIV Golf will hold its next event in the United States. It begins June 30 outside Portland, Ore., and is one of five U.S. events.
On top of prize money are the appearance fees and signing-on payouts individual players have accepted. Mickelson was paid a reported $200 million to take part in the series, and Dustin Johnson, the highest-ranked player participating so far, was reportedly paid up to $150 million.
Mickelson stepped away from golf to work on personal and family issues in February after apologizing for comments he made in support of the breakaway tour. He returned to competition last week in the LIV series opener — a 54-hole tournament with no cut — and his game appeared rusty. He finished tied for 33rd at 10 over par and said that his putting was as bad as he could remember.
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
The U.S. Open, which Mickelson is playing for the 31st time, is the only major tournament he has not won, and he has had more than his share of heartbreak, finishing as runner-up six times.
Wearing his signature black outfit but missing sponsorship patches after Callaway, Heineken, KPMG and Workday all dropped him after his comments to the journalist Alan Shipnuck, Mickelson acknowledged the obvious — that the staggering sums he received from LIV Golf made the decision to join much easier.
“It’s been pretty public that I’m suspended along with a bunch of other players,” Mickelson said of the PGA Tour’s decision last week, and added: “I am going to play the LIV events. I am going to play the British Open, but anything other than that would be pure speculation. I don’t know how this is all going to play out.”