Phil Mickelson didn't shut the door on a return to the PGA Tour during his news conference Monday ahead of the U.S. Open while continuing to sidestep criticism of his move to LIV Golf.
On the heels of LIV Golf's inaugural event, Mickelson addressed the criticism the series is continuing to receive because of its financing from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.
In addition to Saudi Arabia's poor record on human rights, the role of Saudi nationals in the Sept. 11 attacks has drawn renewed scrutiny. Terry Strada, the national chairperson of 9/11 Families United, wrote a letter saying those who signed with LIV Golf "become complicit with their whitewash, and help give them the reputational cover they so desperately crave."
Mickelson addressed Strada's letter directly.
"I would say to the Strada family, I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends on 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them," he said. "I can't emphasize that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them."
The six-time champion also talked about the indefinite suspension he and 16 others received from the tour for competing in LIV's London tournament:
"My preference is to be able to choose which path I would like, one or the other or both. I feel that I gave as much back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf that I could throughout my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I've earned a lifetime membership. I intend to keep that and then choose going forward which events to play and not.
"I am, again, very appreciative of the many memories, opportunities, experiences, friendships, relationships [the] PGA Tour has provided, and those are going to last a lifetime. But I'm hopeful that I'll have a chance to create more."
Even before the suspension, Mickelson had been notable for his absence on the tour. His last appearance was the Farmers Insurance Open in January.
The 51-year-old removed himself from the spotlight amid the fallout from comments he gave to Alan Shipnuck of the Fire Pit Collective.
With rumors swirling about his possible involvement with LIV, he said the Saudis were "scary motherf--kers" who "killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights." Nonetheless, he spoke positively about a Saudi-backed breakaway league "because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates."
Mickelson quickly apologized, but the damage was already done by that point.
"I have had strong opinions and ideas, let's say, regarding most of the governing bodies, and I've done a poor job of conveying that," he said Monday. "I've made it public, and that's been a mistake. That's one of the mistakes I've been making, and try to going forward be a lot more thoughtful with my words and actions and try to keep a lot of those things behind closed doors."
While Mickelson is unable to compete in tour events for the time being, the U.S. Open leveled no such ban. He's scheduled to tee off Thursday at 1:47 p.m. ET at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.