Phil Mickelson tells Rory McIlroy he should thank LIV Golf for boosting PGA Tour incentives

Phil Mickelson tells Rory McIlroy he should thank LIV Golf for boosting PGA Tour incentives - GETTY IMAGES
Phil Mickelson tells Rory McIlroy he should thank LIV Golf for boosting PGA Tour incentives - GETTY IMAGES

Far from “hating” LIV - as Rory McIlroy declared he does earlier this week - Phil Mickelson believes that the Northern Irishman and the rest of the top players should be “appreciative” of the Saudi rebel circuit in forcing the PGA Tour to introduce huge incentives to appease the elite golfers.

Even McIlroy felt obliged - albeit through gritted teeth - to concede that  “some of his ideas had merit”, reflecting on Mickelson’s infamous rant against Sawgrass HQ and his contention that the star names were not duly compensated and that they should play each other more often.

And while Mickelson, as he continues to be treated as golf’s pariah, is careful not to take all the credit the Tour injecting up to $200 million annually from next season - most of which has been designed to find its way into the heavyweights’ pockets - the 52-year-old is keen to stress the LIV influence in the overhaul.

“Well, they are getting a lot for it,” Mickelson replied to SI when asked what he thought of the Tour’s most pre-eminent performers committing to 20 Tour events. “So I’m extremely happy that the top players are being listened to and that their input is being valued…. and what they are doing for the Tour is now being valued.’’

Mickelson is adamant that without the threat of the $2 billion breakaway league, funded by the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Tour would not have altered its structure. The six-time major winner spent years making the case for the superstars, but is insistent that his entreaties went ignored.

The frustration led him to accuse Tour commissioner Jay Monahan  of “running a tyranny” and of “obnoxious greed” and also to his notorious comments in which he called the Saudis “scarymotherf-----s to deal with” before saying he was able to contain his disgust for the country’s “horrid” humans rights record because of the “leverage” it gave him over the Tour. Ultimately, Mickelson joined LIV in May in a $200million deal.

“It was stated very clearly that nothing was going to happen,” Mickelson said. “Unless there was leverage, nothing was going to change. And all players should be appreciative of what LIV is doing. The players on LIV for the opportunity they are getting. And the PGA Tour for the leverage that was provided to get these changes done. Despite multiple efforts by multiple players… I don’t think anything like that would have happened without the leverage that LIV Golf has provided. There was no leverage. There were no other options.’’

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates with the FedEx Cup - GETTY IMAGES
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates with the FedEx Cup - GETTY IMAGES

Mickelson claims that he has been contacted by pros who stayed loyal to the Tour to extend their thanks. “Numerous [have] - and I'm very appreciative,” he said. “They are from both sides. I think players on both sides of LIV and the PGA Tour are appreciative of what is happening. Every player is benefiting.’’

Mickelson believes that eventually his reputation will be rescued. “I feel that my legacy is being built right now,” he said. “The changes that professional golf are going through I believe are in the best interest for the fans and the players. I feel that it’s being built right now. It hurts to see so much hostility and negativity, for sure. I really believe in the end it’s going to be worth it and I think in the long run everyone is going to come out ahead.”

The left-hander is again struggling in LIV’s fourth 54-hole, £20 million event in Boston, shooting a four-over 74 to trail countryman Matthew Wolff by 11 shots after the first round. The Open champion Cam Smith fired a 64 on his LIV debut to lie only one behind.

There have been vague reports that the majors might align with the Tour to ban the rebels - Sawgrass has confirmed that the LIV players’ memberships for next season have been revoked as US golf awaits a definitive court case that should begin in early 2024 - but Mickelson dismisses that scenario, certainly when it comes to his beloved Masters.

“I believe wholeheartedly I’ll be at Augusta. I thought my conversations with [Masters chairman] Fred Ridley [in April] were extremely classy,” Mickelson, a holder of three green jackets, said. “I have the utmost respect for him and the leaders of the majors. There’s been, to date, no threat at all. I’m not saying that couldn’t change. I just don’t see how that could benefit anybody. I believe they are wise enough and great leaders who can see that.’’