PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Emboldened by support from golf's biggest stars, Commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday the PGA Tour was ready to move on from the threat of a Saudi-funded rival league and that his phone will be on whenever Phil Mickelson is ready to call.
In his annual news conference at The Players Championship, and with Tiger Woods being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this week, Monahan instead dove straight into the Saudi topic with what could be interpreted as a veiled shot at Mickelson.
“We have too much momentum and too much to accomplish to be consistently distracted by rumors of other golf leagues and their attempts to disrupt our players, our partners and most importantly our fans from enjoying the tour and the game we all love so much,” he said.
“We are and we always will be focused on legacy, not leverage."
The “leverage” remark mirrored what Monahan said in a player meeting two weeks ago. It also is the word Mickelson used in Saudi Arabia and with golf author Alan Shipnuck that revealed Mickelson's intentions and involvement with a proposed league led by Greg Norman and supported by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.
Shipnuck, whose unauthorized biography of Mickelson is due out in May, quoted him as saying the Saudis were “scary mother-(expletive)s to get involved with.”
“We know they killed (Washington Post columnist Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay,” Mickelson said. “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, while apologizing for his choice of words, said they were off the record and out of context. Shipnuck said they were not.
Mickelson said in a statement days after the comments were published that he “desperately” needed time away. He is not at The Players Championship and has not played since the Saudi International on Feb. 6.
Monahan said he has not spoken with Mickelson since the comments and declined to speculate what discipline, if any, might follow.
“The ball is in his court,” Monahan said. "He has said that he's stepping away and he wants time for reflection. That's something we are going to respect and honor. When he's ready to come back to the PGA Tour, we're going to have that conversation. That's a conversation I look forward to.”
Monahan said during the five days from Mickelson's inflammatory remarks being published to his statement that he needed time away, the commissioner never thought of calling him.
“I know the man well enough, and I’ve had enough conversations with him where that’s not something that I thought at that point in time I should or needed to do. Certainly had my phone on,” Monahan said.
“Listen, he’s a player that’s won 45 times on the PGA Tour. He’s had a Hall of Fame career. He’s won here at The Players Championship. He’s inspired a lot of people and helped grow this tour — his tour,” Monahan said. "So as difficult as it is to read some of the things that were said, ultimately a conversation will be had when he’s ready to have it.
“And I will be ready to have it, as well.”
Two people who have had contact with Norman's LIV Golf Investments described the proposed rival league as being “on pause.” They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of a planned league that no player has publicly joined.
In the day after Mickelson's comments came out, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau said they would be staying on the PGA Tour. They joined a list of the top 12 players in the world, along with several others. Rory McIlroy, the first to speak out against a breakaway league two years ago, called the Saudi-funded plan “dead in the water.”
“I've heard nothing since,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “I don't know where they stand. But it seems like pretty much every top player in the world — especially the younger guys, the guys that you really need to get something like that off the ground — they all want to play here and they've stated their intention. And that's what it is.”
Norman published a letter to Monahan accusing him of bullying the players and suggesting he could not ban anyone for joining a new league. Monahan did not respond and was not concerned about the matter winding up in court.
“I'm confident in our rules and regulations, my ability to administer them, and that's my position on the matter,” Monahan said. "Our players have spoken. They are 100% behind the PGA Tour. They have expressed their loyalty and commitment in their own unique ways. ... We're going to accelerate into our season of championships and continue to grow this tour.
“And when we do that, all that other stuff doesn't matter because we're in a position where no one can compete with what we have.”
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