‘I don’t see a hell of a lot wrong with it’: Hall of Famer defends Phil Mickelson

Tony Jacklin

Tony Jacklin during the 2018 Ryder Cup.

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Tony Jacklin, who has previously written that players would be “mad” for not taking Saudi Arabian millions, has come to the defense of Phil Mickelson. 

In an interview this week with Golf Monthly, the two-time major champion and World Golf Hall of Famer said he didn’t see “a hell of a lot wrong with” Mickelson’s negotiations with a proposed breakaway golf league funded by Saudi Arabian money. Details of the talks came to light last week in a story written by Alan Shipnuck on the Fire Pit Collective golf website, where Mickelson described himself as a key architect in the Saudi league — and added that he hoped the plan would generate leverage in future negotiations with the PGA Tour.

“If he was genuinely trying to get the PGA Tour off its backside to do more for the players than they have been doing and found a way to do it, leverage as he calls it, then if that’s what it was, I don’t see a hell of a lot wrong with it,” Jacklin told Golf Monthly this week. 

The website also reported that Jacklin said “they’ve already come up with umpteen more millions of dollars so what he was doing was catching their attention” — which appears to be a reference to recent initiatives either planned or started by the PGA Tour, including the Player Impact Program and purse increases. 

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On Tuesday, across his social media platforms, Mickelson apologized for his comments, saying too that he would be “taking some time away.”

“I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and many have been shared with the public,” a part of Mickelson’s statement read. “My intent was never to hurt anyone and I’m so sorry to the people I have negatively impacted. This has always been about supporting the players and the game and I appreciate all the people who have given me the benefit of the doubt.

“Despite my belief that some changes have already been made within the overall discourse, I know I need to be accountable. For the past 31 years I have lived a very public life and I have strived to live up to my own expectations, be the role model the fans deserve, and be someone that inspires others. I’ve worked to compete at the highest level, be available to media, represent my sponsors with integrity, engage with volunteers and sign every autograph for my incredible fans. I have experienced many successful and rewarding moments that I will always cherish, but I have often failed myself and others too. The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

Tuesday’s statement came after comments by players at last week’s Genesis Invitational in response to the Fire Pit Collective story. Notably, Rory McIlroy, who’s been vocal in his commitment to the PGA Tour, said after Sunday’s final round that “I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down obviously, but I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant. A lot of words to describe that interaction he had with Shipnuck. It was just very surprising and disappointing, sad. I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”

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In the interview with Golf Monthly, Jacklin said Mickelson and Greg Norman “went into this thing being prepared for pot shots taken at them and you know, part of me sympathizes with them for that.” Norman is the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, the company that is expected to head the Saudi-backed league. 

Earlier this month, in a column written for the Telegraph, Jacklin said: “Don’t blame the players for taking the Saudi millions — they would be mad not to.” 

“I now live off social security here in the U.S.,” Jacklin wrote. “I have no other income so somebody like Greg Norman comes along with a novel idea backed by the billions of a Kingdom and, from my point of view, it doesn’t matter where the finance comes from. … 

“If somebody wants to pay a golfer $20m or $30m to turn up 14 times around the world to play in a three-round event in a Super Golf League, then he or she should be entitled to do it wherever the funds come from, so long as the money is not deemed ‘illegal.’ 

“If someone offered me $2m to play in a tournament, I wouldn’t say, ‘I don’t want your filthy money’ — I’d be on the next plane thinking how my family could benefit. Politics certainly wouldn’t come into my decision-making process.”

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