Phil Mickelson's Saudi Golf League Comments Led to Player Exits, per Greg Norman

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVMay 2, 2022

AL MUROOJ, SAUDI ARABIA - FEBRUARY 01: Greg Norman, CEO of Liv Golf Investments talks to the media during a practice round prior to the PIF Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on February 01, 2022 in Al Murooj, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)
Oisin Keniry/Getty Images

In Greg Norman's eyes, the controversial comments by Phil Mickelson largely derailed the momentum for a proposed alternate golf league financed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund had built.

"There's no question [Mickelson's comments] hurt," Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, said, per Mark Schlabach of ESPN. "It hurt a lot of aspects. It hurt the PGA Tour. It hurt us. It hurt the game of golf. It hurt Phil. So yeah, across all fronts. It wasn't just specifically to us. But it definitely created negative momentum against us."

Norman estimated that at least 30 percent of the top 50 players in the PGA Tour had committed to playing in the league prior to the comments, and there were plans in place to launch in February.

Mickelson made the comments to author Alan Shipnuck in which he called the Saudi Arabians "scary motherf--kers" but saw the league as an opportunity to make money and change golf.

"... They killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights," Mickelson said in the interview. "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."

He was heavily criticized and released a statement that said: "It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words."        

Phil Mickelson @PhilMickelson

A Statement from Phil Mickelson <a href="https://t.co/2saaXIxhpu">pic.twitter.com/2saaXIxhpu</a>

Lefty has not participated in a tournament since January's Farmers Insurance Open and notably passed on the Masters, which he has won three times in his career.

Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley told reporters Mickelson turned down an invitation to participate in the tournament this year via text message.

As for the breakaway league, Norman said it planned on starting a 14-event schedule in late February. That has now been trimmed to eight events with total prize money of $255 million and a season-ending match-play championship at Trump National Doral in Miami in October featuring an additional $50 million in prizes.

"Quite honestly, we were ready to launch on the Tuesday or Wednesday of Genesis," Norman said. "We had enough players in our strength of field, or minimal viable product, ready to come on board. And when all of that happened, everybody got the jitters, and the PGA Tour threatened people with lifetime bans and stuff like that."

He also said Mickelson is welcome to participate in any LIV tournament even after making the comments.