Phil Mickelson says doesn't condone rights abuses on eve of Saudi-backed LIV golf series

Phil Mickelson says doesn't condone rights abuses on eve of Saudi-backed LIV golf series
Golfer Phil Mickelson said he doesn't 'condone human rights violations at all' and 'believes that Saudi-funded LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game'.
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Golfer Phil Mickelson is a six-time major winner [Chris Trotman/LIV Golf/Getty]

Golfer Phil Mickelson said on Wednesday that he does not condone human rights violations in Saudi Arabia as he prepares to tee off in the inaugural event of the divisive LIV Golf Invitational Series funded by the Gulf kingdom.

The American six-time major winner confirmed earlier this week he had signed up to play in the breakaway series, teeing off at the Centurion Club outside London on Thursday.

The $25 million event in St Albans - the biggest prize pot in history - is the first of eight tournaments this year bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, worth a combined $255 million.

A number of marquee names are in the 48-man field for the opener including Mickelson, two-time major champion Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia.

Reports say that Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler will become the latest stars to join the series.

Organisers are pledging to "supercharge" golf, offering 54-hole tournaments with no cuts, simultaneous "shotgun starts" and a team element.

But the series is being staged in defiance of the main tours, which are weighing up how to react in a power struggle that is rocking the sport.

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Mickelson, 51, has not played since the publication of comments in February in which he criticised the US PGA Tour and LIV Golf's Saudi backers.

In an interview with author Alan Shipnuck, the left-hander said LIV Golf was an opportunity to gain leverage over the PGA Tour.

However, Mickelson described the new venture's backers as "scary" with a "horrible record on human rights", noting the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate.

Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi, an insider turned critic, in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in October 2018. His remains have never been found.

Fallout from the killing continues to mar Saudi Arabia's image, especially in the United States.

Amnesty International on Wednesday renewed its call for players to speak out about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, rather than being "willing stooges" of "sportswashing".

Mickelson faced an uncomfortable grilling at a press conference on the eve of the tournament, often pausing before answering questions carefully.

The American, who entered the room at the Centurion Club wearing dark glasses, was asked what he meant by describing the Saudis as "scary".

"Certainly I have made, said and done a lot of things I regret and I'm sorry for that and for the hurt that it's caused a lot of people," he said.

"I don't condone human rights violations at all, nobody here does, any throughout the world, and I'm certainly aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi and I think it's terrible.

"I've also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history and I believe that LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game as well and I'm excited about this opportunity."

PGA Tour warnings

Players opting into LIV Golf have done so despite PGA Tour warnings of disciplinary action.

While a number of players have resigned from the Tour in order to compete in the series, including Johnson, Mickelson said he had no intention of following suit.

"I worked really hard to earn a lifetime exemption," said the 45-time winner on the Tour. "And I don't want to give that up. I don't believe I should have to."

Mickelson refused to confirm or deny if he had been suspended, or currently was suspended, by the PGA Tour.

And he did not dispel rumours that he is receiving an eye-watering fee of $200 million to compete in the new series.

"I feel that contract agreements should be private," Mickelson said. "Doesn't seem to be the case, but it should be."

Stars including Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods have all committed themselves to the PGA Tour, but Ian Poulter believes more top golfers could defect in future.

"There's a huge investment coming into the game of golf and sport in general… other players will be looking in with interest this week, and I think they will want to come and see what it's all about," said the Englishman, who is in the field in St Albans.

Players will compete as individuals and teams for purses of $25 million in all seven regular-season events, being held in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, with the winner of each competition taking home $4 million.

The eighth and final event will be a team championship, with a total prize fund of $50 million.