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With U.S. Open looming, Phil Mickelson defends defection to LIV Golf

June 13, 2022 Updated Mon., June 13, 2022 at 5:21 p.m.

Phil Mickelson speaks to the media during a press conference prior to the 2022 U.S. Open at The Country Club on June 13, 2022, in Brookline, Massachusetts.   (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America/TNS)
Phil Mickelson speaks to the media during a press conference prior to the 2022 U.S. Open at The Country Club on June 13, 2022, in Brookline, Massachusetts.  (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Keith Pearson Boston Herald

Phil Mickelson, who is making his 31st attempt at the major that has always eluded him, was front and center on Monday afternoon prior to the start of the 122nd U.S. Open.

But that wasn’t the primary topic of the question and answer session. Michelson leaving the PGA Tour for LIV Golf, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, was the hot topic.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, Mickelson wasn’t much on the way of details or specifics.

In the LIV tour’s first event last weekend near London, Mickelson finished 17 shots off the lead in the 54-hole event.

Mickelson, 51, opened with a statement in which he spoke of the time away from golf from late January until last week. He said the break was good for him and that he understood people have strong opinions about his decision to leave for LIV, which he said made “an obvious financial commitment,” reported to be $200 million – and that’s before the golfing part.

By and large, he dodged questions relating to the controversial tour and his break with the PGA.

The New York Post reported Saturday that 911familiesunited.org, a group of families who lost loved ones in the attacks of 9/11, wrote a letter to the American players who left the PGA Tour for LIV, criticizing the players for agreeing to play for a regime in which 15 of the 19 people that were involved in four plane hijackings were Saudis.

“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,” Mickelson said, referencing the group’s national chair Terry Strada, the person who reportedly wrote the letter. “I can’t emphasize that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them.”

Saudi Arabia was also behind the 2018 killing of government critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and has a poor record on human rights, particularly concerning women’s and LGBT issues.

Mickelson, who because of his longevity and success earned lifetime membership status on the PGA Tour, was suspended recently for playing in the LIV series. While the USGA and R&A are allowing suspended players who already qualified for the event to play, that is largely seen as a temporary issue and might not last beyond this year.

The six-time major winner, meanwhile, touted the benefits of LIV – increased purses and fewer tournaments that “allows me to have more balance in my life.”

“I find that as I prioritize those that are important to me, people that are important to me going forward, this allows me to have more time with them, be more present, and to share more life experiences outside of golf,” he added.

He expressed his interest in growing the game around the world, but five of the remaining seven stops on the LIV series are here in the United States, including Sept. 2-4 at The International in Bolton.

Former player turned NBC Sports analyst Paul Azinger asked what advice Mickelson would give to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, and the frequent critic suddenly turned quiet.

“Last week I made it clear that all PGA Tour matters I’m going to – I won’t be discussing at this time, and I believe those are areas that should be behind closed doors,” he said.

Mickelson said he expects the fans to “provide an atmosphere that is second to none” but did not give an indication of whether he plans to be cheered or panned when he steps to the first tee at 1:47 p.m. Thursday with Shane Lowry of Ireland and fellow LIV defector Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa.

“I think that their excitement and energy is what creates such a great atmosphere, so whether it’s positive or negative towards me directly, I think it’s going to provide an incredible atmosphere to hold this championship,” he said.

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