The American has been at the forefront of recent criticism of the PGA Tour while a newly proposed tour in the Middle East, funded by the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund, has been trying to woo the game’s top stars away with the promise of lucrative contracts.
The proposals were swiftly and publicly rejected by many elite players including Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa, but others have been considering their options.
Mickelson’s apology comes as KPMG, one of the six-time major winner’s main sponsors, announced that their partnership had come to an end by mutual consent following his comments.
In an interview with Fire Pit Collective last week, Mickelson admitted he had been using the Saudi interest to create “leverage” in his dispute with the PGA Tour over matters such as video rights, saying: “[The Saudis] are scary motherf*****s to get involved with. We know they killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
His comments were widely criticised, notably by McIlroy, who described Mickelson’s words as “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant”. McIlroy added: “It was just very surprising and disappointing, sad. I’m sure he’s sitting at home rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”
On Tuesday, Mickelson released a statement on social media saying he was “deeply sorry” for causing offence. “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,” he said.
“There is the problem of off-record comments being shared out of context and without my consent, but 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.”
Mickelson insisted he had “taken the hits publicly” in order to drive positive change in the game of golf, but also struck a self-reflective tone, saying had often made mistakes in life and would need time away from golf to learn from this episode.
“Golf desperately needs change, and 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.
“Despite my belief that some changes have already been made within the overall discourse, I know I need to be accountable. For the past 31 years I have lived a very public life and I have strived to live up to my own expectations, be the role model the fans deserve, and be someone that inspires others. I’ve worked to compete at the highest level, be available to media, represent my sponsors with integrity, engage with volunteers and sign every autograph for my incredible fans.
“I have experienced many successful and rewarding moments that I will always cherish, but I have often failed myself and others too. The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. 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.”
The Saudi project appears to be all but dead with other leading players like Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson finally coming out to distance themselves from the tour.
Mickelson did not reveal how long he would take out from the sport but his participation in the Masters, which he has won three times among his six major championship titles, is now in doubt. The tournament at Augusta National begins on 7 April.