From naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant. To something softer.
Three months after blasting Phil Mickelson for his characterization of the upstart Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, Rory McIlroy took a different tone on Tuesday at Southern Hills.
“He’s made decisions, and, you know, he’s had to live with certain consequences of that,” McIlroy told Sky Sports. “But I think at this point, it’s like, you know, OK, people could say there were some actions, but for the most part, they were words. And I think people can be forgiven for words.
“And, you know, I came out a little strongly against him right at the start, but then, my stance has definitely softened over the last few weeks.”
McIlroy’s initial comments came after Mickelson, in an excerpt for a then-forthcoming biography by Alan Shipnuck, published Feb. 17 on firepitcollective.com, discussed his involvement with LIV Golf, the new company headed by Greg Norman that is expected to launch an invitational series in early June and is backed by the Public Investment Fund of the Saudi Arabia government. Mickelson called his new partners “scary motherf———s,” and he also insisted that PGA Tour media rights should be redistributed more equitably to Tour members.
Three days later, after the final round of the Genesis Invitational, McIlroy called the comments “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant” and that they were “just very surprising and disappointing, sad.” Five days after that, on Feb. 25, Mickelson apologized in a statement released on his Twitter account, said he would be taking “some time away,” and he has not made a statement or appearance since.
That includes withdrawing last Friday from this week’s PGA Championship, where last year, at 50, Mickelson became the oldest ever to win a major championship. On Tuesday, in his pre-tournament press conference, McIlory said this year’s event “should be a celebration” for Mickelson.
“He won a major championship at 50 years old,” McIlroy said. “It was possibly his last big, big moment in the game of golf. He should be — I think he should be here this week and celebrating what a monumental achievement he achieved last year.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s sad. Yeah, I don’t know what else I can say.”
In his interview with Sky Sports, McIlroy offered up what Mickelson should do should he return. Late last month, Mickelson’s agent said the player had registered to play in both the PGA and next month’s U.S. Open, along with requesting a release from the PGA Tour to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event, which is June 9-11 in London. Registering for these events, however, does not mean Mickelson will definitely play in them.
“You know, Phil Mickelson has been a legend of our game for the last 30 years,” McIlroy told Sky Sports. “And I certainly don’t think he should be shut out of the game. You know, I think whenever he comes back he should be — you know, maybe just a little less — I don’t know if the word — more gracious, I guess, is maybe the word. It’s — you know, he — you know he said some bad things and offended some people, but I don’t think that that makes it right to completely shut him out of the game of golf.
“I mean, I think he’ll be welcomed back, and I think a lot of players will be happy to see him back. But that will be in his own time and wherever he decides to show up again, whether that’s, you know, in the States, on the PGA Tour, or whether that’s in London LIV in a couple weeks’ time. You know, that’s his decision and, you know, it’s sort of more with where he’s more comfortable showing up again, I guess.”