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Phil Mickelson lost his sponsor of 14 years after revealing his true feelings about taking Saudi money

February 23, 2022, 6:24 PM UTC

Lefty’s had a rough week.

Pro golfer and incumbent PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson is taking time away from the sport after intense backlash surrounding his comments about the Saudi government and human rights abuses.

Mickelson had been linked with the upstart Saudi Gold League, an ambitious bid financed by the Saudi government’s sovereign wealth fund to draw top players away from the famous PGA Tour. 

But Mickelson made comments last week to author Alan Shipnuck, who is writing a biography of Mickelson and who published the remarks on his website that have embroiled the golfer in a firestorm of controversy.

“They’re scary motherfu–kers to get involved with,” Mickelson said, criticizing the kingdom’s sanctioned murder of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its extreme criminalization of homosexuality.

 “We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay,” Mickelson said. 

Mickelson called the Saudi Golf League no more than “sportswashing,” when sport is used as a tool to legitimize or soften the image of a country or corporation, and claimed that the main reason behind his involvement was because it presented him with a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.” Mickelson criticized the PGA Tour for employing “manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse.”

The remarks were met with disdain from other golfers, with Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion who is a member of both the American PGA and the European tours, calling Mickelson’s comments “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant.”

Mickelson released a statement on Twitter announcing that he would be taking a break from golf and apologizing for his comments, calling them “reckless.” However, he also maintains that his words were supposed to have been off-the-record and were shared out of context without his consent.

Mickelson insisted that the golf world “desperately needs change” and indicated that more golfers should take a public stand against the status quo, as he did.

“I have always known that criticism would come with exploring anything new,” Mickelson’s statement read. “I still chose to put myself at the forefront of this to inspire change.”

Mickelson’s statement acknowledged the difficult position he may have put his partners and sponsors in, which he called “lifelong friends,” and implied that he would accept any revision sponsors wanted to make with their agreements.

Shortly after Mickelson issued his statement, KPMG, his sponsor of 14 years, dropped the golfer from its portfolio.

Mickelson did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

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