Phil Mickelson car-crash interview before US Open shows fans extent of sponsors’ desertion

Phil Mickelson expresses empathy for 9/11 families amid heat over joining LIV

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Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf Invitational Series has been teed up as a more lucrative rival to the PGA Tour, offering the kind of cash prizes to make most fans wince. Charl Schwartzel discovered the new-found riches for himself on Sunday after pocketing £3.86million for winning the competition’s inaugural event in Hertfordshire.

Phil Mickelson is the biggest name to turn his back on the PGA in favour of the rebel league. ‘Lefty’ stands to earn more than most from the transition amid reports Saudi organisers paid the six-time major winner $200m (£160m) to lead the exodus.

That split seemingly hasn’t come without sacrifice, however, as Mickelson conducted interviews ahead of this week’s U.S. Open. The 51-year-old is free to compete in the major—which appears on the PGA Tour—despite being suspended by the PGA.

In the build-up to Thursday’s tee times at the Country Club, Mickelson’s clothing and looked empty compared to previous years, apparently wearing only his own branded apparel. Fans took notice after he was asked how he’d explain his decision to join the Saudi-funded LIV Series to the families of those killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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“I would say to everyone whose lost loved ones and friends in 9/11 that I have deep empathy for them,” said Mickelson. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers who took part in the 9/11 bombings were citizens of Saudi Arabia. The extremist network credited with responsibility, Al-Qaeda, is also believed to have taken much of its funding from sources in Saudi Arabia.

A number of Mickelson’s sponsors cut ties with the golf icon earlier this year when he said his Saudi partners were “scary m***** f*****s to work with”, suggesting they were necessary to reform the PGA. KPMG, Heineken and Workday each ended partnerships with the veteran, while Callaway ‘paused’ their relationship with the player in February.

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He’s far from the only pro whose purse has been hit, however. Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell were recently dropped by the Royal Bank of Canada, while Rocket Mortgage confirmed it had terminated its agreement with Bryson DeChambeau after he confirmed he’ll join the LIV Golf Series.

Mickelson has encountered widespread push-back from those in and around golf for his decision to defect but is adamant he has nothing to regret. “I have a lot of friendships on the PGA Tour,” he added. “I respect that they disagree. This was the right decision.”

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