Human rights

Mickelson says he ‘doesn’t condone human rights abuses’ on eve of new series

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St Albans (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Phil Mickelson said on Wednesday he does not condone human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, ahead of the first Division LIV Golf Invitational Series tournament near London funded by the Gulf kingdom.

The six-time major winner confirmed earlier this week that he has signed up to play in the new series, saying he also plans to play major events, including the US Open next week.

Mickelson has not played since posting comments in February in which he criticized the US PGA Tour and Saudi supporters of LIV Golf.

In an interview with author Alan Shipnuck, the 51-year-old American southpaw said LIV Golf was an opportunity to capitalize on the PGA Tour.

However, Mickelson described the new venture’s backers as “creepy” with a “horrendous human rights record”, noting the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate.

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

The fallout from the murder continues to tarnish Saudi Arabia’s image, particularly in the United States.

Mickelson, 51, who headlines a 48-man field at the 54-hole LIV Golf Invitational London, which begins on Thursday, faced a grilling during a press conference on the eve of the tournament.

The American, who entered the room wearing dark glasses, was asked what he meant by calling the Saudis “scary”.

“Certainly, I have done and said and done many things that I regret and I am sorry for that and for the hurt that it caused to many people,” he said.

“I don’t condone human rights violations at all, no one here does, anywhere in the world, and I’m certainly aware of what happened with Jamal Khashoggi and I think that’s terrible.

“I’ve also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history and I think LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game as well and I’m excited for this opportunity.”

PGA Tour Warnings

Players who opted for LIV Golf did so despite warnings from the PGA Tour about disciplinary action.

While a number of players have resigned from the Tour in order to participate in LIV Golf events, including two-time major winner Dustin Johnson, Mickelson said he has no plans to do the same.

“I earned my lifetime membership and I don’t want to give it up,” he said. “I don’t think I should have to.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ve earned it (lifetime membership) and I don’t plan on giving it up,” added the American, a 45-time PGA Tour winner.

Mickelson declined to confirm or deny whether he had been suspended, or was currently suspended, from the US tour.

“I choose not to speak publicly about the PGA Tour issues at this time,” he said at the Centurion Club in St Albans, near London.

He also declined to confirm whether he was receiving $200 million for participating in LIV golf events, but his response indicated that the claimed amount may be accurate.

“I think contractual agreements should be private,” Mickelson said. “It doesn’t seem like it, but it should be.”

The new LIV series, which includes eight tournaments this year, is funded by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

Players will compete as individuals and teams for eye-watering purses of $25 million in seven regular season events, played over three uncut rounds.