Legendary golfer Gary Player has thrown his support behind Phil Mickelson while bizarrely wearing a Golf Saudi logo on his clothing in his role as an honorary starter at the Masters
The South African joined fellow legends Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in the traditional opening ceremony at Augusta National. Player, the first non-American Masters champion in 1961, signed as an ambassador for Golf Saudi last year and also had the logo on his golf bag.
Fellow three-time champion Mickelson is not playing this year as he takes time away from golf following his comments at the Saudi-backed Super Golf League.
The reigning US PGA champion apologised for “reckless comments” where he referred to the Saudis as “scary mother*******” and “have a horrible record on human rights”. But Player, now 86, said: “I have a special thought on Phil Mickelson. I think we live in a time now when we are such a judgmental society, a litigious society, a critical society, where people get crucified. The greatest PR man on the golf Tour in the last five or X amount of years has been Phil Mickelson. He has been the ideal man for a sponsor, for professional golf, for the public, the way he’s handled the public, with dignity and with love.
“And he makes a mistake, which every one of you in this room have made a damn mistake. We all have. And he said he’s sorry. But even the Lord God will forgive you of your inequities if you ask for forgiveness. He said terrible things, but we all make mistakes. Hold your head up high. You’ve made a mistake. Everybody makes a mistake. And he should go on with his life.” Player also caused controversy at last year’s opening ceremony when his son and caddie Wayne held up a sleeve of golf balls behind special honorary starter Lee Elder during the ceremony.
Mickelson is a three-time winner at the Masters, having finally broken his duck in 2004 before going on to win it again in 2006 and 2010. He will not be playing at the event this year, marking the first time he has not featured at the Masters since 1994, having taken a break from the sport following his Saudi Golf League comments.
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In a lengthy statement announcing his break from the game, Mickelson wrote in February: “I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.
“The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritise the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and many have been shared with the public.
“My intent was never to hurt anyone and I’m so sorry to the people I have negatively impacted. This has always been about supporting the players and the game and I appreciate all the people who have given me the benefit of the doubt.”