Mickelson criticises Saudi Arabia as he flirts with Super League: report

The 2020 Ryder Cup
Golf - The 2020 Ryder Cup - Whistling Straits, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, U.S. - September 24, 2021 Team USA vice captain Phil Mickelson during the Foursomes REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Feb 18 (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson has criticised Saudi Arabia's human rights record even while in discussions to join a new Saudi-backed golf circuit, saying he was only using the new tour as leverage to prise more concessions out of the U.S.-based PGA Tour.

In an interview in November but only just published on the firepitcollective.com website, Mickelson revealed that he and three other players hired attorneys to write the operating agreement for the Super Golf League (SGL), which he said was "sportswashing".

The six-time major champion described the Saudi regime as "scary".

"We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights," he said, referring to American-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate in 2018.

"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.

"They've been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse."

Saudi Arabia's government denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it is protecting national security from extremists and external actors.

Left unanswered in the American golfer's expressed distaste for the Saudi regime is whether he is among the 20 or so players who reportedly have signed up with the Super League.

The PGA Tour, long the game's undisputed top dog as far as field quality, prize money and prestige are concerned, has vowed to ban anyone who joins the SGL.

Others apart from 51-year-old Mickelson who are rumoured to have signed up include long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau, fellow American Kevin Na and several veteran European players.

But most of the current crop of top players have already announced their loyalty to the PGA Tour, including global star Rory McIlroy, three-time major winner Jordan Spieth and, on Wednesday, world number one Jon Rahm. read more

Long-time former world number one Greg Norman is spearheading the Super League as CEO of LIV Golf Investments, which is backed by the Saudi Investment Fund. read more

Norman, known as "The Shark", recently told reporters that more details would soon be forthcoming, saying "this is just the beginning".

Efforts to create a new global circuit have been going on for several years.

Reuters reported in 2018 that a secretive concern named the World Golf Group was offering top players big money for a new tour that it subsequently dubbed the Premier Golf League.

But that circuit never came to fruition, and in the past couple of years has been superseded by the Saudi effort.

PGA Tour journeyman Kramer Hickok told The Stripe Show podcast this week that the Super League had signed up 17 players.

(This story has been corrected to removes extraneous words "in an" in paragraph two)

Reporting by Andrew Both in Ballarat, Australia, Editing by Robert Birsel

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