Phil Mickelson insists his “reckless” gambling had nothing to do with his decision to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.
The six-time Major winner allegedly blew about £32 million between 2010-2014, but the player known as ‘Lefty’ is adamant that signing up to golf’s rebel circus was more about freedom of playing schedule than chasing lost bucks. Mickelson claimed he and his family are financially secure, but he has flown in to Britain to join the 48-man field at the inaugural £20 million event at Centurion Club, where the winner pockets £4m.
Four months ago, the 51-year-old American branded the Saudis “scary motherf*****s” and said he was aware of their “horrible record on human rights” in an explosive interview with his biographer. Mickelson has not played since February, missing his first US Masters tournament in 28 years and his defence of the US PGA title last month.
But he told Sports Illustrated: “My family and I are and have been financially secure for some time. My gambling got to a point of being reckless and embarrassing.
“I had to address it. And I’ve been addressing it for a number of years. And for hundreds of hours of therapy. Gambling has been part of my life ever since I can remember but about a decade ago is when I would say it became reckless.
“It isn’t a threat to me or my financial security. It was just a number of poor decisions. It’s embarrassing. I don’t like that people know. The fact is I’ve been dealing with it for some time.”
Mickelson insisted that working with the Saudis was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates” by creating a new series of tournaments with a different format. He added: “I certainly do not condone human rights violations.
“And addressing what happened to Jamal Khashoggi is awful. But I have seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history and I really believe that LIV can be good for the game of golf as well.”
Greg Norman, chief executive and commissioner of LIV Golf, said: “Phil Mickelson is unequivocally one of the greatest golfers of this generation. His contributions to the sport and connection to fans around the globe cannot be overstated and we are grateful to have him.”
Mickelson won’t be the only star name in the field at The Centurion Club. Yesterday, the PGA Tour was rocked by the news that former world No 1 Dustin Johnson had resigned his membership in favour of the LIV Golf series.
Johnson, 37, conceded his decision would not render him ineligible for the 2023 Ryder Cup, but said he was doing “what is best for me and my family.” Kevin Na has also given up his Tour place, in order to escape potential sanctions.
The likes of Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, and Ian Poulter are also in the 48-man field for Thursday. As a part of the 54-hole tournament format, team event will run alongside the individual competition.