| 16.7°C Dublin

Paul McGinley insists Phil Mickelson has ‘got to backtrack’ on Saudi comments to get back into PGA Tour fold


Paul McGinley

Paul McGinley

Paul McGinley

Paul McGinley insists the threat to golf's status quo hasn't gone away, but he believes Phil Mickelson will have to backtrack if he is to be welcomed back into the PGA Tour fold.

The left-hander is currently taking time out of the game after losing a string of sponsors over his controversial comments on the Saudi-backed Super Golf League project that is being fronted by Greg Norman.

Mickelson told journalist Alan Shipnuck he had enlisted three other "top players" and paid lawyers to write the SGL's operating agreement, but he did not hold back in his criticism of the Saudis or his indifference to their sportswashing campaign.

"They're scary motherf***ers to get involved with," said Mickelson. "We know they killed (Washington Post reporter and US resident Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights.

"They execute people over there for being gay. 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.


Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson

"They've been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as (PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan) comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won't do what's right.

"And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I'm not sure I even want (the SGL) to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the (PGA) Tour."

McGinley is at Sawgrass for television duties and he can't see a way back for Mickelson unless he does a U-turn on the SGL and the Saudis.

"Phil is a maverick," McGinley said on Golf Channel, recalling how Mickelson attacked Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson in the aftermath of that Ryder Cup defeat to his European team at Gleneagles in 2014, leading to the creation of the US Ryder Cup task force.

Sport Newsletter

Get the best analysis and comment from our award-winning team of writers and columnists with our free newsletter.

This field is required

"He sees himself as a pioneer. He is bright; he is intelligent. He may not be rational at all times, but we saw what he did in the 2014 Ryder Cup. He instigated a change there that was done in a very ham-fisted way.

"But he did instigate change there and he probably feels this is a way to instigate change and he did."

Since his comments on Saudi Arabia and his efforts to undermine the PGA Tour become public, the Californian has lost major sponsors in KPMG, Workday, Amstel and Callaway.

McGinley sees a road back, but it will require a humiliating climbdown by the six-time major winner.

"I think he's got to go backwards before he goes forwards," McGinley said. "He's got a back down from his position at the moment. He's got to backtrack out of that before he does anything.

"But in order to come back into the ecosystem, you cannot be on both sides of the fence. You can't be trying to instigate change and a whole new way of playing the game and a new business model.

"Remember, this wasn't just about creating some new events. This was about a business model, a franchise that involved ownership."

PGA Tour commissioner Monahan would not comment on whether any disciplinary action had been taken against Mickelson, but he made his stance clear when asked about possible bans or lifetime suspensions.

"How do you respond to scenarios about a league that doesn't exist?" Monahan told NBC.

"So I think if a player were to join another league, they have made a choice to join that league and not participate on this tour and so I don't think it is reasonable to expect that you can cash in on the benefits of the PGA Tour while at the same time look to dismantle the organisation from the inside," he said in an interview with NBC.

"Our regulations say that a player who causes financial or reputational damage to the PGA Tour faces a fine, suspension or disbarment. It's clear. It's in black-and-white. Those have been the rules for as long as the tour has been in existence."

The PGA Tour is looking at unprecedented growth in purses over the next few years thanks to its new TV deals.

It has also formed a "strategic alliance" with the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour, to fight off threats.

These are threats, according to DP World Tour board member McGinley, that haven't gone away.

Recapping the history of Saudi Arabian involvement in golf, McGinley explained how the Saudi International became a European Tour event for two years, paying the players huge appearance fees.

"They came in through the established channels and wanted to grow the game," Dubliner McGinley said.

"They talked about diversity in the game. They talked about investing money in the game and we figured slowly but surely we would enhance the relationship.

"But we came to a crossroads then with European Tour and it was the Premier Golf League at that stage, who were keen on reinventing the game if you want to call it that both in terms of a business model and also in terms of how it's played by making it a team event.

"We (the European Tour) were offered a lot of money. As much as the telephone numbers that are being talked about here or even more.

"But the European Tour's board, which I was part of, made a very strong decision that no, we are not going to go down the new road of reinventing the game and reinventing the business model of the game that our future was one in the current ecosystem of being in line with the PGA Tour.

"Jay Monaghan and his board agreed and off we went in that direction. At that stage, the Premier Golf League idea fell apart and the Saudis came up with their own idea of a Super Golf League, which is where we are now.

"That Super Golf League is based on the idea of not being part of the current ecosystem and starting up on their own, trying to take the very top players to be front and centre of that, having a series of up to 15 events that have yet to be defined.

"As Jay said, nothing has been announced, but there was talk of up to 15 events to go along side the major championships, so the players would have 19 or 20 events in their schedule and get paid huge, exorbitant amounts of money for that."

McGinley explained that the DP World Tour has accepted it as a junior partner to the PGA Tour now and will act as a feeder tour with more and more co-sanctioned events on both sides of the pond.

"We are there to enhance that and enable the PGA Tour to become the premier golf tour in the world," he said. "We realise that the DP World Tour will not be that, but we want to be very much there is a kind of international arm and create pathways for players to come into the ecosystem via the European Tour and perhaps the Korn Ferry Tour and then graduate onto the premier tour in the world which is the PGA tour."

As for an existential threat to the status quo from Greg Norman and the Saudis or other players, he does not believe that has gone away.

"As long as players are independent traders, it's very difficult to tie them down," he said. "And we know private equity has been investing a lot in sport. I know they've invested a lot in Formula One and they have invested a lot in rugby at home and they have invested a lot in soccer teams at home and I know that private equity are all over sport at the moment.

"We see a lot of growth coming in sports, so who is to say that private equity if the Saudis don't go forward that private equity won't. And if the Saudis don't go forward, what is the next play from here?

"It is very hard to have any kind of successful venture when you don't have the top 20 players in the world, and they've all committed to the PGA Tour. So this has died down, but it is not over.”

Top Videos