Phil Mickelson ‘very optimistic’ about golf’s future as sides talk

Mark SchlabachESPN Senior WriterJune 28, 2023, 9:17 a.m. ET5 minutes of reading

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In his first public comments since the PGA Tour’s a stunning alliance with the DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was announced on June 6, six-time major champion Phil Mickelson said he is pleased the parties are working to bring the divided sport back together.

During a news conference Wednesday ahead of this week’s LIV Golf League tournament in Spain, Mickelson told reporters he believes the plan to reshape the sport is ahead of schedule.

“I will say that I felt appreciation that we got to this point where we are working together because it makes me feel confident about where the game of golf is going in the future,” Mickelson said. “We felt like it was going to take about two years to get there. It took a year and a half or six months faster than I thought it would be.”

Mickelson declined to speak to reporters at the US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club earlier this month, saying he did not want to distract from the major championship. He missed the cut and was not at the weekend.

Mickelson has been heavily criticized for comments he made about the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s history of human rights abuses and the PGA Tour’s alleged “greed.” He lost several longtime sponsors before joining LIV Golf last year.

“Going forward, we’re all very optimistic about where the game of golf, specifically professional golf, is going,” Mickelson said Wednesday. “Also, many of the changes that have been made because of LIV were all very much [appreciated]both on the LIV Tour as well as the PGA Tour and we’re happy for the guys out there that they have some positive changes there as well.”

The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and PIF have entered into a framework agreement to form a new entity that will combine their commercial assets. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan will serve as CEO of the new entity; PIF chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan will be its chairman. The PGA Tour will have a controlling interest in the new company, regardless of the size of PIF’s investment. Al-Rumayyan will also join the PGA Tour’s policy board if the deal is finalized.

The PGA Tour policy board met in Detroit on Tuesday. Player directors who sit on the board – Patrick Cantlay, Rory McIlroy, Charley Hoffman, Peter Malnati and Webb Simpson – were assured by tour management that they would have to approve a final deal between the former rivals.

The framework agreement does not specify what will happen to the LIV Golf League, which is financed by PIF. According to the framework agreement, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN on Monday, “NewCo will conduct a full and empirical data-driven evaluation of LIV and its prospects and potential and will conduct a good faith assessment of the merits of team golf generally, and the PIF, PGA Tour and DP The World Tour will work together in an effort to determine how best to integrate team golf into PGA Tour and DP World Tour events going forward.”

LIV Golf League CEO and Commissioner Greg Norman has told his circuit’s players and staff that LIV Golf is an independent entity and is making plans for the 2024 season and beyond.

“Everything over the last few years that we’ve been told by Greg and everyone at LIV has come true, so we have a lot of confidence in what they’ve been telling us,” Mickelson said. “We don’t really feel the need to publicly state our position. There’s really no need for us to talk about things publicly, just let it play out.”

The framework agreement also included language on how players suspended by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour for competing in LIV Golf League events could reapply for membership on those circuits. According to the framework agreement, the tours will “work cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for all players who wish to reapply for membership on the PGA Tour or the DP World Tour after the conclusion of the 2023 season and to determine reasonable criteria and conditions for readmission in accordance with each Tour’s disciplinary policies.”

Mickelson, who won 45 times on the PGA Tour, was asked about the possibility of returning to that tour.

“Instead of saying yes or no, I know that from a player experience, all the difficulties and challenges and things that require a lot of excessive energy and output during the week have been addressed at LIV,” Mickelson said. “So the player experience here is incredible. I just can’t imagine a better scenario for me as a player than playing here at LIV.”

4Aces GC captain Dustin Johnson, who won LIV Golf’s individual and team championships in its inaugural season in 2022, told ESPN at the US Open that Al-Rumayyan told him that LIV Golf would have a full schedule in 2024.

“I’m excited about the future,” Johnson said in Spain. “I think with this deal, the only thing that’s going to happen is that LIV is going to be even better than what it is now, which is already great. I’m happy right where I’m at and I’m definitely looking not playing more golf than I’m playing now, that’s for sure.”

Spain’s Sergio Garcia, captain of Fireballs GC, was suspended by both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to join LIV Golf. He later withdrew from both tours. Garcia told reporters in Spain that he is confident the LIV Golf League will still be playing in 2024.

“Yeah, very confident,” Garcia said. “I mean, that’s what I can see. That’s all I can say. I think we’re in a good place. I think there’s a lot of details that haven’t been finalized yet and there’s a lot of speculation . But I think it’s going to be a good deal for everybody, and I don’t expect us not to be here next year.”

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