Phil Mickelson committed to the Saudi International on Monday, joining a growing number of star players scheduled to play in the controversial European Tour event. However, unlike many of his peers who have remained mum on their involvement beyond their initial commitment to the tournament, Mickelson defended his decision on Monday night with a series of tweets aimed at detractors.
“After turning down opportunities to go to the Middle East for many years, I’m excited to go play and see a place in the world I’ve never been,” Mickelson said. “I understand those who are upset or disappointed. You’ll be OK. I’m excited to experience this for the first time.”
When European golf writer Ewen Murray suggested Mickelson could visit the area without taking the reported high-figured appearance fee, the five-time major winner responded, “I could, but given the opportunity I have to go play and compete while visiting, your recommendation just seems stupid to me.” Mickelson later paraphrased a Kevin Hart quote toward Murray, writing “You do you, I’m gonna do me.”
Mickelson also said that he is likely done with the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the PGA Tour stop that Mickelson’s played since 1990 and the event Mickelson is skipping to play in the Saudi International. “Given that I turn 50 this year, there’s a good chance I’ve played my last Phoenix Open,” said Mickelson, who is the tournament’s all-time career money winner. “We’ll see.”
In its second year of competition, the Saudi International remains a scrutinized affair. Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who lived in Virginia and was a critic of the Saudi government, was brutally assassinated at the country’s ministry in Istanbul in October 2018. Khashoggi’s murder has put other Saudi Arabia human-rights issues into light, placing the European Tour and players in an unfavorable position.
In an earlier statement Monday, Mickelson said he looked forward to “doing my bit to grow the game in the kingdom” of Saudi Arabia.
Mickelson joins a Saudi field that includes Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau and Sergio Garcia.