Phil Mickelson is seeking a release from the PGA Tour that would allow him to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event in June. The procedural move doesn't commit Mickelson to the event, but leaves open the possibility he'll take part in the Saudi Arabia-backed upstart tour, which intends to compete with the PGA Tour by offering overwhelming financial windfalls for its competitors.
The application for release, a necessary element of any attempt to play on a tour outside of the PGA Tour, is part of a series of applications Mickelson is making for significant upcoming tournaments, including the PGA Championship — where he is the defending champion — and the U.S. Open.
“Our client Phil Mickelson is officially registered to play in the PGA Championship as well as the U.S. Open,’’ said Steve Loy, Mickelson’s agent, in a statement. “We have also filed a request on his behalf for a release to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational in London, June 9-11. This request complies with the deadline of April 25 set forth by the PGA Tour to compete in a conflicting tour event. Phil currently has no concrete plans on when and where he will play. Any actions taken are in no way a reflection of a final decision made, but rather to keep all options open.”
Mickelson hasn’t played since the Asian Tour’s Saudi Invitational in early February, and hasn’t made a public statement since late February, when comments he made on the Saudi-backed golf league drew immediate and widespread heat. Mickelson acknowledged to golf journalist Alan Shipnuck that despite any ethical concerns about getting involved with the Saudi league, he intended to use LIV Golf as a way to pressure the PGA Tour.
“They’re scary motherf***ers to get involved with,” Mickelson said of the Saudi government. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. 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. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse ... The Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the Saudi golf endeavor] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the Tour.”
Mickelson lost multiple sponsorship deals in the wake of his comments. He issued a statement on Feb. 22, but has remained silent ever since.
"I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions," Mickelson said in the statement. "It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this."
In late February, Mickelson’s name appeared on a list of former champions who would not be playing in this year’s Masters. Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley indicated earlier this month that Mickelson reached out to him via text message to indicate he was withdrawing, and that Augusta National did not block Mickelson from playing. The 2022 Masters marked the first time Mickelson had missed the tournament since 1994.
Mickelson’s name is also on the list of potential players in both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open. Deadlines to make applications for both events came earlier this month.
The LIV Golf tour is planning to stage eight events this year, starting at the Centurion Club outside London in early June, one week before the U.S. Open. That event will have a $25 million purse for a 48-member field, with a $4 million first prize. For comparison, Scottie Scheffler won $2.7 million for winning the Masters earlier this month.
“There's a $4 million first prize. I hope a kid who’s 350th in the world wins,” Greg Norman, the public face of LIV, said recently. “ It’ll change his life, his family’s life. And then a few of our events will go by and the top players will see someone winning $6 million, $8 million, and say, ‘Enough is enough, I know I can beat these guys week in, week out with my hands tied behind my back.’”
That in itself could be motivation enough for Mickelson, who will face significant and substantial questions at whichever event marks his return.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.