LIV Golf has hauled in the biggest fish it was chasing. Phil Mickelson will play in the upstart circuit’s first event taking place starting this Thursday at the Centurion Club outside London. Mickelson, currently ranked 72 in the world, will be the most decorated player in the field, having won six majors and 45 PGA Tour events.
After emerging as a vocal supporter of LIV who helped write its operating guidelines, Mickelson stepped back from public commentary in February after a series of offensive quotes regarding LIV’s connection to the Saudi state and accusations of sportswashing that appear in a new book were revealed.
“They’re scary mother——s to get involved with,” Mickelson told Alan Shipnuck, for the book Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar. ”We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident 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.”
Mickelson has not played on Tour and avoided the public spotlight since, raising questions about whether he would jump to LIV or remain on Tour. Now, after he plays in London—a violation of Tour regulations—he will almost definitely face PGA Tour discipline, which could include a ban.
Shortly after LIV announced his participation, Mickelson released a statement. “I want to again apologize to the many people I offended and hurt with my comments,” it began, before adding, “I am ready to come back to the play the game I love but after 32 years this new path is a fresh start, one that is exciting for me at this stage of my career.”
He later acknowledged his gratitude for the PGA Tour, while simultaneously pointing out that he’s given a lot back. He also added that he intends to play the majors.
LIV Golf has planned eight events for 2022 in which 48-man fields will play in a four-player team format and a concurrent individual competition with guaranteed payouts starting at $120,000. Winners will receive $4 million and the winning team will split another $5 million. LIV has also been paying large bonuses to entice players to join, including roughly $125 million for Dustin Johnson.
It’s unclear what the commitment is in return for the payment, and for now, LIV has said players can participate in events as they please, although eventually LIV plans to have players sign contracts obligating them to play the entire series, which is scheduled to grow to 18 events. The first event will air on Facebook and YouTube.
(This article has been updated in the fifth and sixth paragraphs to include information from Mickelson’s statement, and in the eighth paragraph to include where the London event is airing.)