BROOKLINE, Mass. – In what figures to be an ongoing occurrence when he meets with the media, Phil Mickelson took an abundance of questions on Monday concerning the source of funds that caused him to jump to the Saudi-financed LIV Golf Invitational Series.
Presented with a question at The Country Club concerning the families of 9/11 victims who wrote to him protesting his participation in the new venture, Mickelson was asked specifically about a letter written by Terry Strada – whose husband boarded one of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center.
“I would say to the Strada family, I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends on 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them,’’ Mickelson said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them.’’
And with that, the questions persisted in a 25-minute session that was Mickelson’s first in the United States since he took a leave from the game in late February and did not return until last week’s inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event outside of London.
Mickelson did a news conference there, with much of the same emphasis on his decision to sign on for a reported guaranteed fee of more than $150 million for four years, not including the huge purses he will play for in the LIV Golf events.
The series is bankrolled by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund that is viewed by many as a vehicle to support initiatives that are meant to distract from the country’s numerous human rights issues.
“I know that many of you have strong — well, many people have strong opinions, emotions about my choice to go forward with LIV Golf. I understand, and I respect that,’’ he said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the PGA Tour and the many opportunities it has provided me through the years, but I am excited about this new opportunity as well.’’
Mickelson and the other 16 players who were part of the PGA Tour and participated last week have been indefinitely suspended by commissioner Jay Monahan, who during Sunday’s broadcast on CBS would not address a way back for the players.
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Monahan also made a point to say that he can think of no one who has been a member of the PGA Tour who would say they’re embarrassed to be part of it – the implication being that associating with the Saudis and leaving the PGA Tour might leave some feeling regret.
“In regards to the PGA Tour, there’s a lot of things throughout the years that the PGA TOUR has done that I agree with, and there’s a lot of things that I don’t agree with, and yet I’ve supported them either way,’’ Mickelson said.
“That’s the way I feel going forward for other governing bodies as well, and I’m going to try to keep any issues that I have, again, going forward, behind closed doors because it was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is voicing all of these little things.’’
Mickelson reiterated what he said last week, that he’d like to have the choice to play the PGA Tour if he wants. He earned a lifetime membership by having captured a minimum of 20 tournament titles and completing a minimum of 15 years.
The six-time major champion has 45 PGA Tour wins and turned pro 30 years ago. He played his first tournament as a pro at the 1992 U.S. Open and this will be his 30th appearance in the only major championship he has not won. Mickelson has a record six-runner up finishes without a victory.
As for his chances here, Mickelson acknowledged it won’t be easy. His 34th-place finish last week in a 48-player field highlight numerous issues with his putting and long game. It was his first tournament since he tied for 17th at the Saudi International on Feb. 6.
Prior to that, he played three times on the PGA Tour, missing the cut at the American Express Championship and the Farmers Insurance Open.
Since his tie for second at Merion in 2013, Mickelson has not fared well at the U.S. Open, with no top-20 finishes in seven appearances and two missed cuts. He tied for 62nd last year at Torrey Pines.
“So that’s going to be a challenge, right? It’s the most difficult test in golf,’’ said Mickelson, who turns 52 on Thursday. “I think it was important for me to have a little bit of competitive golf last week and identify some of the areas of weakness. It was one of the worst putting tournaments I’ve had in years.
“I spent time yesterday addressing that, which is why I basically putted the whole day on the course. In the offseason I actually made some strides ball-striking-wise, and I’m fairly optimistic there, but it will be a real challenge. These are the best players in the world, and it’s the hardest test of the year.’’