Phil Mickelson expressed “sympathy” for the families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 terror attacks as he faced another uncomfortable news conference after joining the Saudi-funded LIV Golf tour.
The six-time major winner is in Boston this week for the US Open.
A group representing victims’ families and survivors has accused American players of Mickelson and other players of sportswashing and betraying their country.
“I have the deepest sympathy and empathy for them,” he said.
The 9/11 terror attacks on the United States in 2001 killed almost 3,000 people and according to an FBI declassified document, 15 of the 19 plane hijackers in the attack were Saudi nationals.
A letter criticizing the US players who have joined the LIV Golf tour has been written by Terry Strada, the national chair of 911familiesunited.org.
In addition to Mickelson, he was also sent to Kevin Na, who played in last week’s first LIV Golf event near London, and Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, who had signed up to play in at least the seven remaining events of 2022.
When questioned about it, a visibly uncomfortable Mickelson said: “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.
“I can’t emphasize that enough.”
When asked if he would respond privately to the letter, Mickelson repeated his earlier answer.
Strada, a mother of three whose husband Tom died in the attack on the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York, told the Press Association: “Phil knows exactly what he’s doing, and he and his fellow LIV golfers should be ashamed.
“They are helping the Saudi regime sportswash their reputation in return for tens of millions of dollars, at the very same time our government is rolling out more damning evidence of Saudi culpability in the 9/11 attacks.
“As the PGA Tour commissioner [Jay Monahan] said on Sunday, ‘You’d have to be living under a rock’ to not understand the implications of involving yourself with the Saudis.”
The eight-event LIV Golf series in 2022 has a prize fund of $250m, with the money coming from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).
Disney, Uber, Facebook and Starbucks are among the companies to have received hundreds of millions of pounds from PIF, which also owns 80% of Premier League football club Newcastle United.
PIF’s chair is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of Saudi Arabia’s king. The crown prince, 36, and known as MBS, runs the government. He has been accused of ordering – and denied any involvement in – the of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was critical of the Saudi government.
A 2019 UN report stated that “the state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible” for Khashoggi’s death. The Saudi Arabian government has always denied this.
‘I want to create new memories’
Mickelson, who turns 52 on Thursday, reiterated that, unlike others, he is not going to resign his membership of the PGA Tour over the fallout from the rebel tour.
Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell were among those to rescind their membership before PGA Tour commissioner Monahan issued last Thursday’s memo suspending those who played in the LIV Golf series.
“My preference is to be able to choose which path I would like,” said Mickelson.
“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 which events to play and not.”
Monahan, however, appears unwilling to negotiate, calling LIV “a series of exhibition matches” when interviewed on television during Sunday’s coverage of the Canadian Open.
And when asked why players could not play both PGA Tour and LIV events, he replied: “I guess I would answer the question by asking a question: ‘Why do they need us so badly?’
“Those players have chosen to sign multi-year lucrative contracts to play against the same players over and over again.
“True competition creates the profile of the world’s greatest players. In protecting our loyal members, we can’t allow [LIV Golf] players to freeride off that.”
USGA happy for rebels to play in US Open
Mickelson has won $95m (£78m) on the PGA Tour since turning professional 30 years ago, although estimates suggest the amount he has earned from the game is 10 times as much, once sponsorships and endorsements are taken into account.
Speaking at last week’s inaugural LIV Golf event at Centurion Club, north of London, he did not deny rumors that he has been paid a $200m appearance fee for signing up to the fledgling series, which is offering $250m in prize money for its initial run of eight events in 2022.
While the PGA Tour has chosen to suspend players involved with LIV, the United States Golf Association, which runs the US Open, has welcomed the rebels.
In a statement released last Tuesday, the organization said: “We pride ourselves in being the most open championship in the world and the players who have earned the right to compete in this year’s championship, both via exemption and qualifying, will have the opportunity to of sound.”
Mickelson, meanwhile, has accepted his hopes of eclipsing his record six runners-up finishes in the event are slim after he finished 10 over par in the LIV event at Centurion Club, his first event since February.
“It’s the most difficult test in golf,” said Mickelson, who needs to win the US Open to become the sixth player to complete the Grand Slam of winning all four majors.
“It was important for me to have a little bit of competitive golf last week. It was one of the worst putting tournaments I’ve had in years.
“It looks that it’s going to be a brutal test of golf, and that’s what this championship is all about.”