Phil Mickelson was in the bunker on Monday.
"Lefty" is planning to take hacks during this week's U.S. Open in Brookline, Mass., but the now-former PGA Tour golfer was working his way out of an early hazard he caught himself in, being barraged by media members for playing for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series.
Speaking at a pre-tournament press conference on Monday, Mickelson fielded an array of questions, most focusing on his involvement with LIV Golf and his future with the PGA Tour.
Opening with a statement saying that he has been dealing with personal issues during his time away from the course — namely helping address his gambling, by his own admission — as well as spending time with his loved ones. In all, though, Mickelson delivered largely boilerplate and PR-by-the-book answers.
Here are the most telling responses from Mickelson's press conference:
On the letter penned by 9/11 families that labeled Mickelson a "partner" of the Saudi government:
I would say to the Strada family, I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends at 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them. I can't emphasize that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them.
Mickelson would later reiterate his empathy and sympathy for those who have lost loved ones during 9/11, but wouldn't say whether or not he would speak with the families privately.
On fans who may decide to stop supporting him amidst his move to LIV Golf:
I respect and I understand their opinions and I understand that they have strong feelings and strong emotions regarding this choice, and I certainly respect that. I respect that.
On the potential "welcome back" from his peers who may have lost respect for him:
I have the utmost respect for the players on the PGA Tour. There have been a lot friendships that have gone on for decades, with Amy and myself, there have been a lot of memories that we've shared, experiences that we've shared. And many of the players on the PGA Tour are people that I look up to and respect the most. I think that I respect if they disagree, but at this time, this was the right decision.
On his legacy, and how he feels if his legacy will change:
I would say that I've been a part of the PGA Tour now for 30-plus years, and I have enjoyed my time, enjoyed the opportunities that have been provided, I've enjoyed the lifestyle it's provided. I've enjoyed the fact that the game of golf, through the PGA Tour has been able to give me and my family so much. I'm appreciative of that fact. And during that time, I've worked really hard behind the scenes, as well as on the scenes, to try and contribute as a way of showing my appreciation. And I've done the best I can to give back to it as well. I feel good about that. I feel good about the efforts that I've put in to try and give back to the game of golf as well as the Tour, and I'm excited about the opportunity that LIV Golf presents for me and the game of golf moving forward.
On his future in the PGA Tour beyond this week:
I think it's been pretty public that I'm suspended, along with a bunch of other players, so it would be only speculative going forward. I am going to play the LIV events, I'm going to play the British Open. But anything other than that would be pure speculation, I don't know how this is all gonna play out. …
My preference is to be able to choose which path I'd like. One or the other or both. I feel like I gave as much back to the PGA Tour during my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I've earned a lifetime membership. I intend to keep that, and then choose going forward, which events to play or not.
On his feeling of the criticisms he's faced being "unfairly harsh":
That's not necessarily for me to say. I think the important thing is that, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I understand that it brings out a lot of strong emotions for a lot of people. And I respect that they may or may not feel about it.
On if he feels the need to apologize for joining the LIV Golf Series:
In regards to the PGA Tour, there's a lot of things that, over the years that, the PGA Tour has done that I agree with. And there's a lot of things that I don't agree with, and yet I've supported them either way. That's the way I feel going forward for other governing bodies as well, and I'm gonna try and keep any issues that I have, again, going forward, behind closed doors. Because again, one of the mistakes I've made over the years is voicing all these little things.
On what appeals him to LIV Golf that the PGA Tour
There's an obvious, incredible financial commitment, for all the players involved, and everyone involved. But more than that, there are other factors that, with fewer tournaments, it allows me to have more balance in my life, it allows me to do things that are off the golf course I've always wanted to do. I find that as I prioritize those that are important me, people that are important to me going forward, this allows me to have more time with, be more present, to share more life experiences outside of golf.
On why he still wants to remain a member of the PGA Tour:
I've worked hard to earn a lifetime membership. I've worked hard to give back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf throughout my 30-plus years of professional golf. I've earned that lifetime membership. So I believe that it should be my choice.
On LIV Golf potentially damaging golf, instead of helping it:
I believe that there's a lot of things about LIV Golf that are transformative. Two specifically are: A unique, different format from a format that's been the same for half a century or more. I believe that moving tournaments throughout the world and bringing that type of championship golf to different parts of the world is going to have a very positive effect on the sport, and that's just two instances that I think LIV is going to do a lot of good for the game.
On specific areas he's needed to address personally:
There were a lot of areas, but as I said earlier, being able to be more present and engaged with those that I love, not being distracted all the time with the game of golf, being able to step aside and have that time was invaluable. I also continue to work on areas that I was deficient of in my life, the obvious one is gambling, I've been working on that for years. I'm very happy with where I'm at with that, I'll have to continue working on that for the rest of my life. This time kind of allowed me to sit still and work on these areas — but there are a lot more than that.
On whether or not he's at peace with never playing on the PGA Tour again:
I am, again, very appreciate of the many memories, opportunities, experiences, friendships, relationships the PGA Tour has provided, and those will last a lifetime. But I'm hopeful that I'll have a chance to create more.
Mickelson would later say he hasn't spoken to PGA commissioner Jay Monahan since October, and says he will keep all PGA Tour business and comments private.