Phil Mickelson says LIV is on the rise and the PGA Tour is trending downward

Returning to Saudi Arabia for the first time since his disparaging remarks about the source of LIV Golf’s funding, Phil Mickelson said Thursday he was glad he was on the “winning side” and that he saw the PGA Tour going downhill, as he denied doing so. The infamous interview with writer Alan Shipnock.

Mickelson had stated a month earlier that while the PGA Tour has featured the best players in the world for the past 20 to 30 years, this will not be the case again.

He came out stronger at a press conference for the LIV Golf Invitational-Jeddah, which kicks off Friday at Royal Greens in King Abdullah Economic City.

“I think going forward you have to pick a side. You have to pick the side that you think is going to be successful. And I firmly believe I’m on the winning side of how things evolve and shape in the coming years of professional golf,” Mickelson said.

“We play against a lot of the best players in the world on the LIV and there are a lot of the best players in the world on the PGA Tour. And…until the two sides sit down and talk and work something out, both sides will continue to change and evolve. And I see LIV Golf going up, I see the Tour The PGA is going downhill and I like the side I’m on.”

In an interview with Shipnuck, who published an unauthorized biography of Mickelson in May, the six-time lead champ referred to the Saudis as “scary moms to get involved with.”

“We know they were killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi has an appalling human rights record. They are executing people there for being gay. Knowing all this, why would I think of that? Because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works,” Mickelson was quoted as saying.

The interview was published two weeks after Mickelson played in the Saudi International at Royal Greens.

Mickelson issued a statement after the interview saying his comments were off the record and were shared without context.

On Thursday he said, “I’ve never interviewed Alan Shipnock. I find my experience with everyone associated with LIV Golf to have been anything but incredibly positive and I have the utmost respect for everyone I’ve been involved with.”

Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson Dechambeau were among several major champions of Saudi-funded LIV Golf who signed contracts in the $125 million range.

LIV Golf currently has 12 top 50 players in the world rankings – British Open champion Cameron Smith at second is the highest, while the majority of them are outside the top 25 because LIV Golf has not gained world ranking points since it started in June.

The PGA Tour still houses the majority of the current stars — 19 of the top 20 — and kicks off a new schedule in 2023 that will bring the best players together about 15 times a year playing for $20 million in prize money.

These are some of the changes Mickelson has wanted all along. The PGA Tour suspended him and other members signed with LIV Golf, who is the lead plaintiff in an antitrust lawsuit scheduled for January 2024.

LIV Golf has a 48-player, no-cut course over 54 holes for $25 million each week. Dustin Johnson has already made over $30 million, including an $18 million bonus for clinching the single points race.

Mickelson was seen as the chief recruiter for LIV Golf leader Greg Norman, and it was his comments in February that slowed LIV Golf’s inaugural year.

This summer has illustrated the great divide in golf, as the PGA Tour and the European Tour want no part of anyone who has signed to play with LIV Golf.

The US Open and British Open allowed LIV Golf players to compete if they qualified, although both organizations spoke out against the rival league. Norman was asked by The Royal & Ancient not to take part in the 150th anniversary celebration at St Andrews in July.

Mickelson said golf was “very fortunate” to have the Saudi sovereign wealth fund invested in the sport. Besides the huge money paid out to LIV Golf players and wallets, $300 million has been invested in the Asian Tour.

“Now the United States and the United Kingdom are not in favor of that,” Michelson said. “But everywhere out in the world, LIV Golf is loved. Eventually they come around and accept that.”

Mickelson, 52, signed with LIV Golf in June, one year after becoming the oldest senior winner of the 2021 PGA Championship to claim his sixth major title.

In six matches with LIV Golf, he scored only one top 10—tying for eighth outside Chicago, seven shots behind Smith.

He asserts that LIV Golf has reinvigorated him and made him competitive.

“I love the experience. I love the way they treat us. I love the way they involve us and listen to us in decisions,” he said. “I mean, it’s very comprehensive… LIV Golf is the leader. Be that as it may [wearing] Shorts, whether it be other aspects of professional golf that will change and evolve, these positions will be led by LIV.”

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