(Reuters) -Phil Mickelson apologised on Tuesday for comments he made about the proposed Saudi-backed Super Golf League that set off a firestorm of controversy and said he planned to take “time away” from the sport.
In a November interview that was published on the firepitcollective.com last weekend, Mickelson criticised the government of Saudi Arabia for its “horrible record” on human rights, which he said included the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the execution of gay people.
Despite the government’s “scary” actions, he said he would use the prospect of a new, highly-lucrative tour to gain economic leverage over the PGA Tour, a position that drew the ire of fellow golfers including Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas.
Saudi Arabia’s government denies accusations of human rights abuses.
“Although it doesn’t look this way now given my recent comments, my actions throughout this process have always been with the best interest of golf, my peers, sponsors, and fans,” Mickelson said at the beginning of a lengthy social media post, where he claimed his previously reported comments were “off the record,” a charge the journalist denies.
“The bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”
The six-time major champion said golf “desperately needs change” and that real change is always preceded by disruption.
“I have always known that criticism would come with exploring anything new. I still chose to put myself at the forefront of this to inspire change, taking the hits publicly to do the work behind the scenes.”
No golfers have publicly signed up for the proposed rival league, which is trying to lure top players away from the PGA Tour with the promise of huge paydays.
Mickelson praised LIV Golf Investments, Super Golf League’s financial backer, and called the people he has worked with there “visionaries”.
“They have a clear plan to create an updated and positive experience for everyone including players, sponsors, networks, and fans,” he said.
But the 51-year-old closed by saying he planned to take a break from the sport.
“The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level,” he said.
“I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”
Accountancy firm KPMG, who began sponsoring Mickelson in 2008, said shortly after his statement that both parties had “mutually agreed to end our sponsorship effective immediately.”
(Additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto and Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Stephen Coates)