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After months of silence amid backlash to his comments on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, Phil Mickelson is stepping back into the spotlight and acknowledging that he's struggled with a gambling addiction.
He confirmed in a statement on Monday that he's joining Saudi-backed LIV Golf, sparking speculation that he's doing so amid financial troubles. He's reportedly earning roughly $200 million to play on the series that's challenging the PGA Tour and drawing criticism for "sportswashing" a Saudi regime with a lengthy record of human rights violations. Meanwhile, a biography published in May reported that he recorded $40 million in gambling losses over a four-year span.
Mickelson: Gambling was 'reckless and embarrassing'
In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Bob Harig, Mickelson acknowledged that he's struggled with a "reckless" gambling habit that he called an "addiction," but that it "isn't a threat" to his financial security. He also said that he's been in therapy to address it.
“My gambling got to a point of being reckless and embarrassing," Mickelson told Sports Illustrated. "I had to address it. And I’ve been addressing it for a number of years. And for hundreds of hours of therapy. I feel good where I’m at there. My family and I are and have been financially secure for some time.
“Gambling has been part of my life ever since I can remember. But about a decade ago is when I would say it became reckless. It’s embarrassing. I don’t like that people know. The fact is I’ve been dealing with it for some time."
Mickelson not resigning from PGA Tour
Mickelson is playing in this week's inaugural LIV Golf event in London alongside PGA defectors Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Kevin Na, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace. All of them resigned from the PGA Tour amid an ultimatum from Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who declared last week that Tour players aren't authorized to play in the Saudi series and would be "subject to disciplinary action" if they chose to do so.
Mickelson told Harig that he isn't formally resigning from the PGA Tour and that he's "looking forward to playing the U.S. Open" next week. The U.S. Open is organized by the USGA, which announced on Tuesday that it's not barring players who participate in LIV Golf from its field.
Mickelson also said that he hasn't spoken with Monahan about his decision, apparently leaving the ball in the commissioner's court on what "disciplinary action" to take.
In addition to downplaying Saudi Arabia's human rights record and the killing of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, Mickelson challenged the PGA in his statement to author Alan Shipnuck that prompted the initial backlash in February.
“They’re scary motherf***ers to get involved with,” Mickelson told Shipnuck of Saudi Arabia. "They killed 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.”