As a new golf tour funded by Saudi Arabia continues to gain a foothold, families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attack are decrying golfer Phil Mickelson for joining the new league.
Mickelson was among about a dozen and a half former PGA Tour golfers who joined the LIV Golf Invitational in London last week. The Saudi-backed league is offering massive payouts, which has attracted a slew of former major champions.
The LIV Golf league has been criticized for its ties to Saudi Arabia due to alleged human rights violations. Also, most of the accused hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudi nationals. The family group pushed for the U.S. government to release documents that tied a Saudi government operative to the Sept. 11 plot.
“Phil knows exactly what he’s doing, and he and his fellow LIV golfers should be ashamed,” the 9/11 Families United group said in a statement. “They are helping the Saudi regime ‘sportswash’ their reputation in return for tens of millions of dollars, at the very same time our government is rolling out more damning evidence of Saudi culpability in the 9/11 attacks. As the PGA Tour commissioner said Sunday ‘you’d have to be living under a rock’ to not understand the implications of involving yourself with the Saudis.”
Mickelson was among a group of golfers who received a letter from the families’ group asking them to reconsider joining LIV Golf.
“Perhaps you were unaware of the Saudi role in September 11,” the group wrote. “Or if you were, perhaps you thought nobody would care, nearly 21 years later. Either way, you were mistaken. We noticed, we care, and we urge you to reconsider so that you can stand with us and send a message to the Kingdom; you cannot buy respect, you must earn it.”
Mickelson expressed empathy for the families of Sept. 11 victims but justified his decision by saying the new tour gives him a better work-life balance.
"I speak for pretty much every American in that we feel the deepest of sympathy and the deepest of empathy for those that have lost loved ones, friends in 9/11. It affected all of us, and those that have been directly affected I think -- I can't emphasize enough how much empathy I have for them,” he said.
Mickelson’s comments came as players from both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf prepare for the U.S. Open. The U.S. Open is operated from the United States Golf Association and is among four major tournaments not operated by the PGA Tour. Unlike the PGA Tour, the U.S. Open is not prohibiting players from LIV Golf from participating.
Rory McIlroy, a 21-time PGA Tour champion who is coming off a win last week at the Canadian Open, has openly decried the rival LIV Golf.
"Look, they all have the choice to play where they want to play, and they've made their decision,” McIlroy said. “My dad said to me a long time ago, once you make your bed, you lie in it, and they've made their bed. That's their decision, and they have to live with that."